Car Buyer Scam
A common scam by pretend used-car buyers can take your money, not your car
A popular scam that has victimized many used-car sellers is one in which the proposed buyer usually claims to be from Africa, or another country, and is eager to buy the advertised car, sight unseen, for the asking price. After some complicated email exchanges with the "buyer," the victim ends up with a worthless cashiers check or money order, a depleted bank account, and is still stuck with the car.
How does it work?
You advertise your used car for sale in a newspaper classified ad or on an "auto trader" website. Your car may be one that is in less-than-perfect condition and has high mileage such that it may be difficult to find a buyer. You are anxious to sell.
You are contacted by an interested buyer who wants your car and is willing to pay your price, without seeing or examining the car. He tells you that he lives/works in Africa (or other foreign location) and that he will arrange to have the car picked up by his "agent" and shipped to him. He may say that he's in the U.S. and represents someone in another country. He offers to send you a U.S. certified cashier's check right away.
You receive the cashier's check but the amount is more than the agreed-on price of the car. The reason that the check is in excess of your asking price is typically explained as a "mistake," or that the check had already been cut before setting a price, or any one of a number of other explanations.
You deposit the perfectly official-looking check at your bank. The bank credits your account for the amount of the check, although the check has not actually cleared yet, and won't be for 10 business days or more.
Uh-oh! Something's wrong
Meantime, the "buyer" contacts you again and reminds you that he sent you too much money, and asks you to send him or his agent a money order or cashier's check for the excess amount, which might be a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. You do it.
A day or so later, the "buyer" may contact you again and may inform you that he (or his client) has changed his mind about purchasing your car, and asks you to send him the rest of the money. You do it.
Now it gets worse
The bank calls you a few days later and informs you that the cashier's check from the buyer is counterfeit and is totally worthless. They debit your account for the full amount of the check.
They now want you to make good on the checks you've written from your account that you sent to the "buyer" or used to purchase a money order sent to the buyer. Whatever money of your own that was in your account is now gone. The bank claims no responsibility in the matter. Your funds are not guaranteed under banking regulations.
You're out of luck
The "buyer" was using a bogus name and can't be located. There is no one to sue or prosecute. You still have your used car but now owe your bank a substantial amount of money.
The details on this scam may vary, but the basic scheme is always the same: bad cashier's check in payment for a used car, followed by a request for refund or forwarding of some or all of the money before the check clears the bank.
Don't get caught in this one. Many people have.
Actual examples of this scam
Here are a few examples of actual email exchanges from real scammers to potential victims. Note in the following email that the asking price for the old car is $450 but the scammer is sending $3500 by cashier's check. Guess whose bank account would be short by $3050 very soon.
Hello [seller name],
Good day to you,my name is Franks .I‘m a Autodealers,I‘m interested in purchasing your (1977 Dodge Aspen).I‘m making this transaction urgent as i have my client who is in need of it as soon as possible.I will like to see a pic of it and Let me know the present condition of it and i will like to know your best offer for it.My client made me understand he will be making the payment through a certified cashier check as the only way he could get this transaction done as soon as possible.Let me know if that is okay by you. Looking forward hearing from you soon.
Hello [seller name],
Thanks for your mail and understanding and will want payment to be asap, i will go about payment by instructing my client in the states to issue you a certified cashier check of $3,500 and this should take care of all expences in this transaction, what you will do once you have recieved the check ,is to cash it, and deduct your own money($450) and the wiring charges and wire the balance to my international shipping agent through western union transfer. Once he recieves the balance,he will come over to your location in the very next day for pick up of the (1977 Dodge Aspen), now the money wired to the shipper is his fees for his services, transportation to your location and back to me, also for all charges that may arise along this transaction cos i will want the good to be delivered to me safe and sound without problems, i shall send you my shipper address as soon as i contact him.All what i need from you now is to mail me with you details below...
YOUR FULL NAME..........(on check)
YOUR CONTACT ADDRESS....
YOUR STATE AND ZIPCODE.......
YOUR PHONE NUMBER..........(both mobile and landphone number)
Do get back to me asap with this details for payment to be made out to you immediately,so that i can forward it to my client who will issue out payment on my behalf to you the, let me know asap if you are still intrested so that we could seal this transaction on time.
Here is another email from a scammer that was forwarded to us by an alert seller. Notice how the counterfeit cashiers check would be written for $6400 more than the price of the car that was being sold. Notice, too, the intricate explanation for the reason for the extra money. If the seller had sent the $6400 check, as requested, his bank account would have been $6400 short because the original $15,150 check from the buyer was worthless.
Thanks for your mail. I am very sorry for not getting back to you as expected, i was trying to conclude issue of payment with my client. I am delighted to tell you that my client appreciates and commends your vehicle, with full interest, he is willing to carry on with this transaction. I have finalized with my client on the price of $8,750 which is the last asking price for your vehicle and its ok by him, I have forwarded your vehicle information including your last mail to him for his proper records.
He also instructed me to inform you that payment will get to you in a US certified cashier check of $15,150, which is a refund payment of a cancelled order earlier made by my client .Due to company policy this check has to be made out in this amount to you,Because company policy only allows a refund payment on one cashier cheque.So you are required to deduct the cost of your vehicle (car) $8,750, when payment gets to you and refund balance $6,400 to the Agent ( our shipper ) for him to be able to offset shipping & tax charges, and other cosmetic repair costs.
After payment has reached you and balance sent back to my agent,he will then proceed with his mechanics for the inspection, pick up(of vehicle & signing of title papers), make some cosmetic touches and drive to a prepaid shipper to be shipped to my customer,while title papers and other necessary documets will be handed over to my agent at the time of pick up.
Please confirm this and forward the following informations;
For payment to be made and send to you as soon as possible.I decided to mail it now for urgent purpose. Thanks for yor understanding and co-operation