Recent media reports from cities such as Fresno and Edwardsville, Illinois, might make you think that everyone who lists a car for sale on Craigslist or other online sites gets robbed — or worse.
There are horror stories about sellers becoming the victims of fraud, scams, robberies or physical attacks by criminals posing as legitimate buyers. These cases may be rare, but they do reveal the potential danger of private-party used-car sales.
In Fresno last week, a career criminal who used Craigslist to find carjacking victims was sentenced to 39 years to life in prison.
You can stay safe while selling your car by using common sense and taking the right preventive measures. Here are 11 tips:
1. CREATE A DEDICATED EMAIL ADDRESS: Set up a new email address (free from providers such as Yahoo, Outlook or Google) to use in your online or print ads. Pick a name such as “Mustang2002” or “Toyota_Corolla_2011.” This will protect your privacy and serve as a distinctive point of contact for shoppers.
2. VET CALLERS THOROUGHLY: You will want to separate serious potential buyers from tire kickers, not to mention crooks, so try to engage shoppers in a phone conversation. You’ll get a better feel for them that way than in an extended email thread or exchange of text messages.
Listen carefully to the questions people ask. Legitimate buyers will want to know a lot about your vehicle before wasting their time coming to see it. Scammers may be quicker to set up a meeting.
3. ARRANGE TO MEET IN PUBLIC: Criminals like to operate where they’re less likely to be seen, so foil them by setting up a meeting in a store parking lot or another location with a lot of traffic, ideally during daylight hours.
If you’re particularly wary, the parking lot of a police station or city hall might not be out of the question. For obvious reasons it’s best not to give strangers your home address and invite them to see the car where you live.
4. LET OTHERS KNOW ABOUT THE MEETING: Give a friend or family member a heads-up about your meeting, including the location, time and your expected time of return. And it wouldn’t hurt to give that person a call when the meeting is over.
5. DON’T GO ALONE: Criminals are less likely to act if someone else is there. You don’t need a trained bodyguard, though. Just having a friend come along will give you an extra margin of safety.
6. TRUST YOUR GUT: It’s likely that you’ve gotten a good impression of the buyer on the phone or you wouldn’t have set up a meeting. Still, size up the person and the situation before you get out of your car and trust your instincts.
7. ENSURE A SAFE TEST DRIVE: If you want to sell your car, you’ll probably need to let potential buyers take it for a drive. But how to keep it from being stolen? Some sources advise that you go along on the ride, but it’s really not a good idea to be in a vehicle with a car thief.
The best strategy is to make sure your insurance covers other drivers, remove valuables from the car, and set a time limit for the test. If possible, use your smartphone to take a photo of the would-be buyer’s driver’s license, or at least write down the name and address. And make sure the photo on the license matches the person at the meeting.
8. ARRANGE A SECURE PAYMENT LOCATION: Even if you’re physically safe, you still could fall victim to a scam. For example, it’s not common practice to make payment at the first meeting. So if the buyer suggests an immediate exchange of cash for the car, that could be a red flag.
One safe way to handle the transaction is to meet a second time at your bank or the buyer’s bank.
That way, you can more quickly verify whatever payment method is used.
9. GET PAID BEFORE SIGNING OVER THE TITLE: Before completing the transaction, be sure you’ve really been paid. Payment by cash or a cashier’s check will help guard against fraud, although there’s no absolute guarantee against a bad check or counterfeiting. Even banks sometimes miss these ploys. And unless the buyer is a relative or close friend, don’t agree to a payment plan.
10. CLEAN OUT YOUR CAR: Remove all your personal property from the vehicle before turning it over to the buyer. You don’t want to lose your iPhone because you left it plugged into the charging port in the center console. And you definitely don’t want to be the victim of identity theft because you forgot to remove papers containing personal information.
11. BE CAUTIOUS, BUT NOT PARANOID: Keep in mind that potential buyers are likely to be as wary of you as you are of them. Maintain a professional and non-confrontational demeanor throughout the transaction. Remember that millions of people sell their used cars without any serious problems and incidents of fraud and personal injury are relatively rare.
This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds. Peter Gareffa is a staff writer at Edmunds: Twitter @petergareffa