Safety Practices When Selling a Car

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While the occasional buyer's intentions may be less than genuine, selling a car on the open market can often be done safely with very little risk.

Keep these tips for personal safety and fraud prevention in mind before you begin to receive calls from potential buyers.

Screening Buyers

Before you agree to show your car or truck in person, you'll want to screen potential buyers over the phone. This will help to gauge the buyer's intentions and alert you to any possible warning signs.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Trust your gut.
    • While you're asking questions, if something seems suspicious, it probably is. Instead of pushing for a quick sale, it's often better to wait until you find a buyer that you can trust to ensure a smooth transaction.
  • Only offer a test drive after you've had a phone conversation.
    • This will not only let you get the basics from the buyer—such as a phone number, name, and address—but you'll also be able to gauge their interest.
    • If the buyer rubs you the wrong way or sounds like a person whom you'd rather not deal with, it's okay to walk away.
  • Be cautious with aggressive buyers.
    • If during the initial phone call the buyer begins to try negotiating before the car is seen, it might be best to turn him or her down. While it's possible they could be a professional buyer looking to resell for profit, it's best to avoid these situations all together.
  • If you agree to a test drive, get the buyer's details.
    • Asking who will be coming for the test drive is an important step for personal safety.
      • If it's not the person buying the car or the person with whom you're speaking with, consider it a warning sign.
      • If additional people show up for the test drive, or if it's a different person from what you were told over the phone, walk away.
  • Ask for a driver's license before you meet.
    • If you're dealing with a criminal, this can be a preventative measure to keep him or her from moving forward.
  • State your payment terms.
    • By being upfront with what forms of payment are acceptable, you can avoid problems or confusion before going any further.

Personal Safety

Meeting a stranger for a test drive could be unnerving for some. While you likely won't have too much to worry about if you've thoroughly screened your callers, it's still a good idea to use these tips for personal safety once you've agreed to give a potential buyer a test drive:

  • Meet in a public place.
    • Instead of having a buyer come to your home when you're alone, meeting in a public place where there are plenty of people is generally safer.
  • Make a copy of the driver's license.
    • If you can't make a copy, document the buyer's:
      • Name.
      • Address.
      • License number.
      • Date of birth.
    • Leave the copy or information with a family member who's staying behind, along with the location and time of your rendezvous.
  • Don't go alone.
    • If concerned for your personal safety, have a friend go along on the test drive with you.
    • If this isn't possible, bring a cell phone and let someone know where you're going and how long you plan to be gone. Call or text them when you arrive, and when the buyer arrives.
  • Have the route pre-planned.
    • This will keep the buyer from heading to locations where you may not feel safe.
    • About 15 minutes should be sufficient for most test drives.

Fraud Prevention

Once the test drive is finished, you'll still need to negotiate the price and finalize the transaction. To avoid fraud, be sure you:

  • Secure payment before signing over the title.
    • If you accept a check or money order, get the cash before you transfer ownership.
    • Checks and money order can take several days to a few weeks to clear.
      • The easiest and fastest way to complete the transaction is to go the buyer's bank to verify funds.
  • Don't agree to payment plans.
  • If you use an escrow service, research it first.
    • Make sure it's a legitimate bank or other well-known company before you hand over the title.
  • Be aware of identity theft.
    • Not all scam artists are after the vehicle.
    • Block out personal information on vehicle maintenance receipts and vehicle history reports to be safe.
  • Don't sell or ship a vehicle sight unseen.
    • Unless it's a classic or other rare vehicle, a buyer willing to buy your car without inspecting it first is usually considered a warning sign.

If you believe you've been a victim of fraud, contact your local police for help. If your vehicle ad was initially placed online, you can also use the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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