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Safe Ways to Buy and Sell a Car Online

Guides  /   /  By Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®

If you wanted to buy or sell a car more than a decade ago, you’d turn to the local classifieds — circling reviews that enticed to you take a test drive or paying for a few lines pushing all options and condition. Or you would drive to the local car lots and see what they had to offer.

Today, it’s more about tapping into the online marketplace, where photos, even videos, accompany listings that can offer you a daily driver or just view those dream cars. But, online convenience can brings some risks if you don’t follow the rules. After all, the Internet introduces strangers — in cyberspace and eventually in person when cars and keys change hands. The BBB research shows eight of 10 top scams in 2011 were Internet-related; and when potential buyers and sellers meet, they may encounter someone out to steal a vehicle on a test drive, rob them of other personal property — or worse.

To protect yourself, use eBay Motors Safe Harbor and these tips:

  • Cyber crime and ID theft
  • Personal safety
  • Transaction fraud

Avoiding Cyber Crime and ID Theft

Follow these common-sense practices to ward off online fraudsters, whether you’re buying, selling or shopping around.

For Everyone
Don’t share personal information. Don’t use your address or other data in online ads or in responding to them. Do not make deals outside of eBay Motors and PayPal, we even suggests creating a dedicated email address for online business dealings.

Avoid clicking links in emails from strangers. The wrong click can send you to a fraudulent site or install a virus on your computer.

For Buyers
Authenticate a listing. Do a Google image search for the featured make and model to see if the exact same image pops up elsewhere. If it does, that should raise red flags about whether the image has been copied from another site. Likewise, buyers can search for a listing’s phone number by putting it in quotation marks in the each field. They’ll find any other place online where the number has been used it could belong to a different business or another true eBay auction seller.

Test an auctions legitimacy by looking for recently closed auctions and feedback comments and information. Scammers who take copied car listings from other dealers can get posted and eBay will remove fraudulent postings. Sadly, naive buyers who send money for a car outside of eBay or PayPal may never see the car or their money returned.

Maintaining Personal Safety

For Everyone
Never arrange to meet at a residence — yours or someone else’s.

For Buyers
Make the deal in public. Meet in a very public, well-lit place, such as a parking lot at a mall or supermarket — even a police station.
Take someone with you, we always take a friend to meet potential buyers. You don’t know people; they may come with a handful of cash — or with a weapon.

For Sellers
If an eBay auction is local or you are going to drive to check it our in person yourself, consider having eBay Motors inspect the car for you. When it comes to meeting for test drives, take steps to avoid putting yourself at risk.

Beware of tagalong “friends. Our industry experts warn of unscrupulous “buyers” who have other agendas, such as bringing friends who may break into your house for electronics while the potential buyer is out with you for a “test drive.”

Use your best judgment about whether to go on the test drive with a stranger. We recommend the ride-along, lest you never see car again. But we warn against driving with someone whose driving record and habits you don’t know. Others recommend asking for some kind of collateral – the keys to the car they drove, for instance – before letting a potential buyer go for a solo drive.

Avoid Transaction Fraud

For Buyers
Always test drive the car. It’s risky to buy sight-unseen, without an inspection. Even if it’s a collector’s car located in a neighboring state, it’s worth the drive there to pick it up.

For used cars, ask for a vehicle identification number and purchase the CARFAX® Vehicle History Report to see if it’s been stolen or damaged. Not every car makes it into the CARFAX database, so it’s best to have a trusted ASE certified mechanic check out the vehicle completely before you buy.

Ask for a copy of the title to the car. Make sure the car you’re buying is the one being sold. And if the seller can’t produce it, walk away.

Research the value of the car to ensure the asking price is fair.

Be suspicious of low-mileage claims. If an ad touts 30,000 miles on a 5-year-old car, ask the seller to take a picture of the odometer and email it to you. If they balk, you’ve spotted a scam. This should be a part of their eBay auction photos.

For Sellers
Always use eBay Motors and PayPal for the transaction. Never wire money back to buyers for overpayment before their check clears. The BBB hears tales of scammers who send a check for too much money and then ask the seller to wire the difference. When the original check fails to clear, the seller is out the money he wired — and perhaps the car.

Independently verify a cashier’s check by calling the issuing bank. Use a phone number you find on the bank’s website — not the one printed on the check itself; in case the check itself is a fake.

Hold on to the title and keys until the check clears.

Craft a complete bill of sale that includes the phrases “sold in ‘as-is’ condition” and “no warranties expressed or implied”.

Final Tip – Don’t forget to view the buyer and seller scores. These scores are affected by doing bad and good business with other eBayers. This feedback system makes it easier for you to secede if you want to do business with the seller or complete the sale. These scores are really important to a quality eBay patron because they can affect their business in the future on eBay.

Take a few minutes and understand what the numbers and stars mean, you’ll find it easier to evaluate a member’s reputation.

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About Lauren Fix
Lauren’s passion is to empower and educate female drivers across America. Her many speaking engagements, news appearances and radio hits reinforce the controversial message that women are the driving force behind what America drives!

About the Author

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  1. Patty Cake December 11, 2013 at 11:47 am Reply

    Great advice Lauren. I begged my best friend’s son not to wire money to a “guy” 1200 miles away but he went ahead and did it. He did nothing to protect himself or verify the id of the other party. Result was he lost a bit over $8000. He made a police report and after a year of getting nowhere he’s accepted that he’ll likely never see his money returned. That’s an expensive lesson to learn.

  2. Julie Paris March 29, 2014 at 8:33 am Reply

    I am in the process of a transaction with someone in the USAF in Italy and the vehicle is in California I am getiing emails from eBay Motors and the link is coming from telling me the legislation is different in Italy and money gram is the best way to send money to Italy. I have an invoice number #VPP-407821069515. I did try to send money gram and they would not process the payment thank God!! They said they do not have an account with eBay motors. I do not have an account with ebay and the rep could not find him by email or phone number. It is The seller requested my name address and email which I provided. I am concerned another link on the correspondence is Plz respond.

  3. Roderick Lewis May 10, 2014 at 7:10 am Reply

    I did the same thing ” I promised my daughter a car for graduation & took my last to buy ths car from ths guy ” I even talked to him ” he seemed like a Gud guy & everything ” state n tht he is a first LT. N tha USAF & I think he tricked me & I don’t knw ha I’m going to explain ths to ma daughter & Graduation is only a week away

  4. Cyle April 16, 2015 at 4:53 pm Reply

    The sad thing he is still out there. He just scammed me on a jeep and I’m a broke college kid. It’s truly sad.

  5. C. Michael April 28, 2015 at 7:33 am Reply

    This “Dennis Powell” person is still running this scam. He’s selling a low mileage Jeep for $2900, too low to be true, and giving the excuse that it’s needed to be registered in Europe soon but it will cost him $5000 so he needs to sell it fast. He even provides a convincing Car Fax report. A jeep in that condition with that low of mileage is worth nearly 3X what he’s asking so I was automatically skeptical. Like they say, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

  6. Hawksfan May 3, 2016 at 12:58 pm Reply is still at it. Tried to scam my daughter, but luckily she asked me about it before taking any action. Here is his last correspondence:


    I’m an 1st Lt. in the USAF, currently stationed in Aviano, Italy for next two years.

    The reason of selling it, is that i am unable to obtain a European Certificate of Conformity in Italy because this Jeep meets US standards. Changing the standards to Italy standards will require modifications, paper work and high costs.

    This is the first time selling my Jeep online. I want you to see, drive and inspect the Jeep before you decide to buy it and for that we need a legal business-specialized company to handle the entire process for us. We will use eBay Motors Vehicle Purchase Protection (VPP).

    You will make the payment to eBay and they will hold the money until you receive the Jeep. ONLY AFTER you receive the Jeep and inspect it eBay will release the payment to me; in this way we are both protected.
    If you will not be satisfied with the Jeep, you can refuse the Jeep and ask for a full refund of your deposit, no questions asked. I will find another buyer in your area and there will be no need for you to send the Jeep back.
    I am willing to handle the shipping. It will be shipped by plane with US Air Military Jeepgo and it will not cost me anything.
    You will receive the Jeep in about 4-5 days. The Jeep will arrive at the nearest airport in your area and then it will be trucked forward to your place.


    If you want to move forward, I will need your full name, shipping address and phone number. Once I will receive your details, i will open the transaction with eBay Motors, and they will send us the transaction details.

    If you want to call me, this is my US phone number +1 (415) 871-0673

    1st Lt. Dennis Powell

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