Where's the scam in this? - For surely that is what this is.

After over ten years, I’ve decided it’s time to sell my 2000 Acura TL. I listed it in Craigslist, eBay Classifieds, eBay Motors and AutoTrader 2 days ago for $5,900. Based on the last time I sold a used car as a private seller, I thought it might sell quickly because of its low mileage (less than 69,000) and possibly because of the custom aftermarket audio system I had installed (though I don’t count on that being more than 20% of what I spent on it in 2003) relative to other cars in that price range in my area.

Within a few hours of posting I get a phone call from a guy named “Abbie” who says he saw the listing and liked the picture (only one on AutoTrader). He asked me a few questions about the condition of the car, then said he was willing to come over from New Jersey and buy the car “tonight” and pay in cash - but for $5,000, no more.

I told him that while the price was certainly negotiable, I couldn’t accept an offer that much lower only 3 hours after putting up the listing. I left unspoken that he should come up a little higher as a counteroffer. Nope, he said $5,000 was his limit. Nothing like “well, maybe if I really like the car”, or “if you throw in a new set of tires” or anything like that that would be appropriate for a picture-based car buying negotiation. Very odd.

About an hour later I get another call from a different guy, “Chris”, also in New Jersey and also looking to buy it immediately, sight unseen, for exactly $5,000 in cash - no more. He didn’t even ask any questions about the car, and focused exclusively on the price. I gave him the same answer I gave “Abbie”.

I find any big-ticket, quick-buy, sight-unseen offer of paying in cash to be suspicious. It smells scammy. And back-to-back people offering the exact same amount within hours of my listing on AutoTrader? It feels like a routine scam being run by independent operations (or one disorganized operation with two guys making the same call to the same target).

Still, on the off chance one of them might be legit, I texted them back yesterday with a counteroffer of my own: $5,600. I got no reply from the one guy (“Chris”), and from the other one (“Abbie”) I got a text back saying he’s glad I accepted his offer of $5,000 (which I clearly had not). He then calls me on the phone today to ask for my address, and when I told him I had said I’d sell it for $5,600, he said, “Oh well, it has to be $5,000”, and hung up.

I find this all very, very odd. Still, I can’t quite figure out where the scam is. The problem with that is that they’d still have to get the car registered (I can’t let them drive it away without insurance and plates and all that), and I’d find out right quick if they passed phony bills or a bad bank check onto me. What could they be up to? Trying to pass off fake ID to me along with a bad money order, then driving off with the car at their own risk (no tags, no insurance) and quickly selling it to a chop shop of their acquaintance? Even the old “my money order is for $6,000, can you refund me the $1,000 or no sale” routine?

But then, why hold the line at $5,000 - if either of those was their angle, wouldn’t they just give me a wad of bad bills or a phony money order for $5,600?

That figure of exactly $5,000 might be important - either as a criminal law thing (like if they get caught, it’s the difference in fraud between grand and petit larceny for a car - except that in NY State the definition is at $1,000), or maybe something to do with the limit of a (fake) Western Union money gram that they intend to try to pay with and claim that that’s what they meant by “cash”, counting on my desire to close the sale quickly to push me to accept the money gram.

Any ideas? I guess it’s possible they both are legit buyers and simply have a very fixed budget of exactly $5,000 and are unwilling to make the cross-two-rivers trip to come and see the car if they can’t get it for that amount…

Have you considered the possibility that or one guy wants it and he’s enlisted a friend to help convince you it’s not worth any more than he’s offering?

Yes that struck me as a possibility, too. So it’s a bit dishonest, but “Abbie” may genuinely want it, and be willing to give you real money – though a bit less than you want to accept, and using a dishonest technique to get that price.

If the guy shows up and offers cash (and it’s real cash), then cash is cash. If he breaks out a check, on the other hand, or if he tries that “Okay so I’ll give you a money order for 7,000 and you give me 2 grand back…” thing, well, you know.

If he enlisted a friend, wouldn’t that friend be offering a little less?

$5000 is a nice even number, and people like nice even numbers.

Naw, still smells scammy.

That’s actually pretty clever - as Jabba the Hutt put it, “My kind of scum”. I’d give him kudos for that angle if it worked out.

Of course to really convince me of that, it’d take sitting on the market for 2-3 weeks, and then the traditional step of someone coming out to see the car and denominating various nitpicks as critical (“oh, this dent on the trunk hood… I can’t live with that. That’s gonna cost me $500 to fix”), and/or the real-or-phantom Other Seller with a car Just Like Mine but for his offered price, and while he likes This Particular Thing about my car that the other one doesn’t (“those fog lamps are sporty but they’re not really functionally necessary on this car”), it’s not really a deal maker for him. That’s what I expected to play out for me to get down to $5,000.

Actually, it sounds like something that might be taught at Get-Rich-Quick car buying seminar at the local Days Inn.

Run it through Edmunds, see what it comes up with.

I did this, came up with $4015.00 Private party price.

I agree it sounds fishy but maybe in New Jersey there’s some excise tax or something that only applies if the car was more than $5000?? That’s the only legitimate thing I can come up with.

See, if it were something legitimate like that, I’d expect the buyer to explain that in an attempt to convince the seller.

It sure sounds fishy to me. If you ever do get one of these folks to buy the car, I’d insist on cash and make the transaction at a bank where they can check the bills.

Interersting, any banks in the area been robbed of $5,000 lately :slight_smile:

Even with cash the only way to be sure it isn’t fake or stolen is to drive the car to the bank parking lot. The two of you go in together. He takes out the money and the cashier counts it to him and he hands it to you right then and there.

I would ask this question on in the discussion forums of your local city. If anyone knows the scam the CL readers should

Check the bills?:dubious: No one passes counterfeit bills like that. Buy a car you have to go thru a bunch of hoop re-saling, and then have your name all over the transaction? Not in a million years.

Don’t accept cash on this type of transaction unless it’s someone local, someone you meet, and someone you find trustworthy. Cashier’s check or bust, for long distance strangers. And cash it before you part with the car. Once it’s gone, you have very little recourse. Particularly if they use a fake identity.

Have you actually talked to this guy over the phone, or has all your communication been text-based? Unwillingness to speak with a seller is a big red flag.

There is a far better way to determine the price of your car. Do a little research and see what other cars of the same make, mileage, condition, and year are selling for. Even better if you can get sold prices.

Blue book is usually high, NADA is often wrong.


First of all, don’t communicate further with either of these two guys. The ‘glad you accepted my 5000 offer,’ esp. for a car that is unseen, just shrieks scam. Stop speaking with them.
Unfortunately, I can’t see what the scam really is, except, if they possibly could want the car, they are testing to see how firm you are on the price. If you will cut 900 off just by them asking over the phone, they could very well say, ‘nah, 4300 is the most I can give you for this,’ after you have gone to all of the trouble. They would know you were a sucker if you agree too readily up front.

Best wishes,


Isn’t $5,000 the lower limit for banks having to report the transaction to the feds? Just a guess but maybe the point of the scam isn’t to scam you but more of a way to launder money.

It’s 10000, not $5000, and no, this is not a way to launder money.

I haven’t found CL to be all that useful for selling, well, anything. I put my car up there and got one guy who insisted right off the bat that he had to pay with Paypal (yeah, right) and the rest of the people kept trying to push trades on me. like, trading straight up for a 2001 Audi or something- yeah, if I wanted to trade for unreliable junk I would have put that in my listing.

eventually just gave up and figured I’ll run the thing into the ground.