How to sell a car on Facebook without getting scammed
Our mission at KeySavvy is simple: make private party car sales better. To accomplish this, we do some peculiar things. One of those things is buying and selling cars on Facebook Marketplace and other sites ourselves. Not only have we met some really cool people, we’ve also learned invaluable lessons that help us build the best possible service for our customers. However, this article is about the people we interacted with that weren’t so cool.
I’ll discuss the most common scams we encounter while having cars listed for sale and the most serious scams reported to us by customers. Being aware of these tactics will help you sell your car on Facebook Marketplace (and any other site) without getting scammed.
The number one most common scam you’ll encounter while your car is listed for sale is what’s known as a phishing scam. Someone will send you a link, usually after what seems like normal back-and-forth questions about your car, with the intent to steal your login information. If you click the link, you’ll see what looks like a perfectly normal Facebook or Google login form. However, this is not the real deal. If you enter your username and password, you’ll be providing this information to the scammer. They will then use this to access your real account and wreak havoc.
If you receive a link from a buyer, take a close look at it. It may be something like “fecabook.com” or “googlelogin.com” so that at first glance, it looks legitimate. It’s best to just not click these links, but if you do, nothing bad is likely to happen as long as you don’t enter any information. If you think you’ve been a victim of a phishing scam, change your password immediately. If you use the same password on other sites, change those as well.
Here is a screenshot of a phishing attempt:
- Don’t use the same password on multiple websites. That way if someone steals one password, they don’t automatically have access to more of your accounts. Use a tool like Lastpass, OnePassword, Apple Keychain, or Google Password Manager to manage all your passwords.
- If a site offers two-factor authentication (also known as multi-factor auth (MFA), or 2FA), turn it on. When a site texts or emails you a code that you have to enter when you login, this prevents a phishing scammer from accessing your account even if they manage to steal your password.
There is one very important exception to keep in mind. If someone sends you a link to keysavvy.com, you should probably click it and get paid securely for your car. 😎
Phone number "verification"
If you share your phone number, you may encounter a scammer asking to send you a 6-digit code to “verify your phone number is real”. However, the actual purpose of this request is to associate your phone number with another service, potentially a payment service such as Zelle. If you agree to provide the code, the scammer will initiate a phone number confirmation with that other service (posing as you), which will send you a text message. When you provide the confirmation code to the scammer, they will use it to confirm they own your phone number.
Here is a screenshot of an actual conversation:
The rule of thumb here is to never share a confirmation code you receive via email, phone, or text message with anyone else. You should only provide this code on the website that requested it from you (like your banking app).
These are fake vehicle history report websites that charge you money for nothing, or provide so-called “vehicle papers” that you can get for free from reputable vehicle history report websites. Buyers will contact you and set up test drives, but before they "drive two hours" to see your car, they'll ask you to send them an "ELC report" or some other made-up VIN report. They will insist that you pay for the report, even if you already have a NMVTIS vehicle history report, AutoCheck, or CARFAX.
To avoid being blocked by Facebook, scammers will sometimes send images of their message, instead of actual text. These are designed to look like a real message bubble so it's hard to tell it apart from any other message. The purpose of this is to prevent Facebook from automatically flagging the message as a scam, since Facebook has a harder time "reading" the text in the image and identifying common scam links and words.
Here are some screenshots from our conversations with these scammers (our sarcastic responses were removed):
In case you haven't noticed, KeySavvy is a payment platform for buying and selling cars and we protect people from all of the scams described below. When you accept payment with KeySavvy, you can focus on getting the best price for your car and sell worry-free. With that out of the way, here are the payment scams you need to watch out for.
In this scam, a buyer will send you fake payment for an amount greater than the price you agreed upon. They will then claim it was a mistake (who does that?) and ask you to send the difference back to them. Your payment to them will be real, but theirs was fake so you lose the amount you sent back. This will often be in the form of a forged cashier's check, which is why it's so important to verify those with your buyer's bank. Better yet, meet at your buyer's bank and watch them get the check.
Yes, this happens more often than most people realize. In fact, the Boston Federal Reserve encounters 20-25 counterfeit bills per day and a seller in Detroit accepted $12,000 in counterfeit bills in September, 2022. As the Detroit seller found out, when you unknowingly accept counterfeit cash, you can’t even report the car as stolen because you “received payment, even if it was counterfeit”.Yes, this happens more often than most people realize. In fact, the Boston Federal Reserve encounters 20-25 counterfeit bills per day. A seller in Detroit accepted $12,000 in counterfeit bills in September, 2022. As the Detroit seller found out, when you unknowingly accept counterfeit cash, you can’t even report the car as stolen because you “received payment, even if it was counterfeit”.
Fake bills can be tough to spot. Some sites recommend a special counterfeit-detecting market, but the Federal Reserve warns that they “are not always accurate and may give you false results”. One common method used by counterfeiters is bleaching $1 bills and reprinting them as higher denominations so they feel like real money. This doesn't require special equipment and can be done with ordinary inkjet printers at home.
The best way to avoid accepting counterfeit bills is by meeting at either your bank and depositing the cash immediately or at your buyer's bank and watching them withdraw the cash. Note that cash adds additional danger of being lost or stolen.
Fake escrow accounts
Escrow services are a smart way to purchase a vehicle and typically help buyers and sellers avoid fraud. Instead of paying you directly, a buyer would pay an escrow company. Once you give them the vehicle and title, the escrow company then pays you. It's intended to be a neutral third party that verifies your buyer's funds so you can be sure you'll get paid when you hand over your car and title.
However, since escrow companies are rarely used, you probably don't have a trustworthy one that you've used in the past. Scammers will create fake escrow company websites and suggest you use them for your sale. They'll send an email that looks like it came from the fake escrow company indicating the escrow account has been paid in full, but if you exchange keys, the escrow company will never pay you.
You can avoid this scam by researching any escrow company your buyer suggests using. Escrow and escrow-like companies should be licensed and regulated, whether as an escrow company, a money transmitter, or, like KeySavvy, a vehicle dealership. License information is public, so you should be able to find information about the company on the website of one or more states it operates in.
KeySavvy works similar to escrow services, but is designed specifically for vehicle transactions. (Our Minnesota dealer license is DLR100357, which you can find on the website of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.)
Fake cashier's checks
Fake cashier's checks are much easier to print than cash and are thus even more common. You could receive a fake check as part of an overpayment scheme (see section above) or just as payment-in-full for your vehicle. You can avoid this type of scam by requiring you meet at your buyer's bank and watching them get the check and hand it to you. Don't meet at your bank and assume the check is legit if your bank deposits it for you. They won't verify the check immediately like they do with cash and if it turns out to be fake, they'll just suck that money right back out of your account.
Just like you, scammers work hard to make money. They're always inventing new ways to take advantage of people and your best bet is to be a bit skeptical and stay alert. Most scams succeed when you're not paying attention or are in a rush to get a deal done. You can read stories of actual scams reported on Reddit in our blog article Found on Reddit: This Is Why We Built KeySavvy.
KeySavvy was created to help people avoid payment and title scams so they can sell their car privately without being an expert in the latest techniques used by scammers. If you're ready to sell your car or already have it listed for sale, add your vehicle to KeySavvy and post your KeySavvy link to your ad to get paid securely.
About Andrew Crowell
Andrew is an avid car enthusiast, software engineer, and business leader in the automotive and e-commerce industry. He's owned a couple Mazda Miatas, an E46 M3, a Subaru WRX STI, and a Porsche 911 Turbo.