How to Avoid A Classic Craigslist Scam

Out of curiosity, last week I checked Craigslist to see if there was a Toyota MR2 for sale locally. Sure enough there was a nice one on there with a TGTBT (Too Good To Be True) asking price.

And while the ad didn’t seem like it was posted by a Nigerian gentleman who might split part of a $10m loot with me, it did raise a few flags. Namely the price was too low for the car being offered. But just for fun I emailed the seller to get the scoop. Here was the response:


The car is still available and it’s located in Gonzales, Louisiana. The price for 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo is $2,250 and the shipping costs are included in this price. It currently has 47,200 miles, there are no rips, tears, stains or marks of any kind in or on the car. It has a clear title, no liens, never been in an accident. The engine and trans are in perfect condition, no leaks, noises or smoke, no rust, there are NO issues.

A friend of mine is a DAS employee and he can deliver the car anywhere in the US for a really good price. You will also have 5 days to inspect the vehicle. If, by any reason, the car is not as described, or if you find any problems with it, I will pay for the returning fees. I’m sure it won’t be the case because it’s a state of art vehicle inside and out.

If you have the funds available and want to reserve the car for you, I need your full name and the delivery address.

Best Regards,

James McNeil

PS. The VIN# is JT2SW22N9M0048994, if you want to run a carfax report

Does anything about this strike you as unusual? If you don’t think it’s fishy I would suggest you never buy anything again until you go to Fool School (and I don’t mean that stock investment site).

I could go on and on but here are 3 immediate red flags.

1. This car was advertised in Washington DC. Why would it be located in Louisiana? The answer is that it’s not. There’s no car. It’s pretext for fraud.

2. The poster claims the car is perfect (“There are NO issues”). If this were true why couldn’t he sell it closer to home for such a low price? And he’ll even pay for shipping to me? And take it back if I don’t like it?  By the way, most CL scams seem to be for amounts under $3k, probably due to some sort of legal threshold where fraud involving larger amounts come with more penalties – that’s my hypothesis.

3. Why does he need my full name and delivery address to “reserve” the car? This isn’t Avis rent-a-car. He just needs a zip code to estimate delivery costs.
Based on this alone I wouldn’t even bother to respond to anything like this. Never provide any personal information, and never ever send any money. The only reason these scams continue is because some people fall for them.
It’s incredible how many sharks there are in used car waters. That’s the reality. So caveat emptor – twice!

The bottom line is if there’s a weird story behind it, the deal is unusual or it seems TGTBT, it probably is. With fine examples like these is it any wonder used cars have a bad rep?

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