Tips To Avoid Getting Scammed When Selling Your Car

Selling your car can be risky. While most people looking to buy or sell cars are happy to follow the rules, shake hands and go on their way afterwards, we unfortunately live in a world where some people choose to take advantage of a situation. Selling your car safely in SA means taking some steps to protect yourself while keeping an eye out for scammers and dishonest people posing as real buyers. With more than 50 cars1 stolen every day in SA, selling yours means being careful when doing it.

This article looks at the risks when selling your car that people face in South Africa. From dangerous hijacking situations to people taking advantage of your goodwill, selling a car today has never been riskier. Thankfully, with a little common sense and by taking some seller precautions, you can protect yourself from thieves, hustlers and scammers when selling your car.

Car scams are increasing

Every day, we hear of new ways people are taking advantage of car sellers. Whether it’s fake deposits or a would-be buyer coming back and “taking ownership” of the vehicle before paying (or without you even knowing about it), everybody needs to be on the lookout for car scams.

While we usually hear of the buyer getting the short end of the deal, car sellers are becoming victims too. Scammers are targeting sellers more and more, focusing on people trying to sell their cars quickly or those who haven't sold their vehicle before. This general narrative that it’s usually the buyers who get scammed can often lead to sellers dropping their guard to become the victims themselves.

Why people are getting scammed when selling their cars

There are many reasons behind the rise in car scams – especially ones involving sellers. Thanks to the internet, more avenues to sell privately, and smarter, more tech-savvy criminals, the risks when selling your car in South Africa are on the rise and can even present dangerous situations.

This is why it’s so important to be on the lookout for potential red flags and dodgy buyers. These are just a few of the reasons we’re seeing an increase in car scams targeting sellers.

  • More ways to sell

From Facebook to Gumtree, online marketplaces and even WhatsApp, thanks to technology, there are now many different options to choose from when selling your car. This variety of platforms and communications options means that people are more exposed and vulnerable when using methods they don’t fully understand.

  • More online fraudsters

Being able to sell your car across so many different platforms means more exposure to an increasing number of scammers who are figuring out how to trick you. These criminals are located around the world and may seem like they’re local when they are not.

  • It’s getting easier to impersonate

 Identity theft is a major problem that allows people to pretend to be somebody they’re not. They can then pose as a legitimate buyer and may even encourage you to do a background check on them to ensure you’re selling to somebody you can trust, only to find out the person you think you’re selling your car to has no idea they just bought one.

  • Poor policing

South Africa’s policing capabilities aren’t exactly the best in the world, making it difficult for selling your car safely. With over 20,000 annual hijackings and road crimes like cash-in-transit heists on the rise, our people in blue are struggling to keep up. Sadly, this extends into police investigations, with many scams going unsolved due to a lack of resources, giving criminals the green light to continue plundering.

  • Desperation

Scammers love to target people they can see are desperate to sell their car. They will often approach sellers with an offer that sounds incredibly enticing, only to rip them off later on. People looking to emigrate, those in urgent need of cash and people trying to sell their vehicles to replace them with a cheaper alternative are a top target for scammers.

Common car scams sellers should watch out for

Here are a couple of the known car sales scams that target the seller.

  • The "test drive and dive"

This is where a prospective buyer insists on taking your car for a test drive before buying it. They will usually request to test your car at a time and place of their choosing, and once they’re behind the wheel, you’ll never see them – or your ride – again.

  • Disappearing after the deposit

This scam involves a person paying a deposit into your account as an act of good faith, indicating they are serious about buying your car. Many sellers then let their guard down and will even hand over the keys after being promised the balance of the money soon after. Naturally, this often never happens, leaving the seller with only a fraction of what they’d hoped to receive for selling their car.

  • The "fake deposit"

Fraudsters are using sophisticated methods to re-create or fake proof of payments, transfer documentation and invoices. They will often send the seller a document indicating that they have paid the deposit for a car, claiming that it will take a few days before showing in the bank account. While the documents look real, the deposit, of course, never arrives, and neither does the return of the car.

  • The "overcharge repayment"

This clever scam involves the buyer sending the seller a cashier’s cheque or money order showing that they accidentally paid too much for the car. They then ask the seller to refund them the overpayment difference, or even the full amount, only for the seller to realise that the original transfer was never real in the first place.

  • The “after-hours comeback”

This is a common South African car theft ploy. Scammers posing as buyers will visit your home to come and view the vehicle. While there, they will instead scout out the property, security measures and weaknesses. Then, later, when you’re not at home or asleep, they will return, either to steal the car or just to rob you.

  • The "cold caller"

In this scam, fraudsters target sellers advertising their cars for sale in a local newspaper or online. The cold caller calls up the seller, posing as a broker with several buyers already lined up to buy the same model as the car you’re selling. All they need from you is an upfront “finder’s fee” or commission before they introduce you to the buyers. They then disappear with your money, and the fake buyers they mentioned don’t exist or are not even interested in buying a car.

Top tips to avoid getting scammed when selling your car

Here are some tips to help you protect yourself and your car when looking at selling your car safely and privately. We’ve also listed the reasons these car scams are so dangerous and what you can do to minimise the risks when selling your car you’re likely to face.

Be careful how you advertise

  • Why: Don’t share unnecessary information about your location, name, details or financial information when advertising to sell your car. Giving too much information away is like ringing the swindler dinner bell and can even leave you exposed to identity theft.

  • How: Only use secure platforms to advertise and, where possible, keep details like your name, number, and address confidential until you’ve lined up a good prospective buyer. Remove number plates for photos or block them out, and never provide sensitive vehicle information like VINs.

Watch out for pretenders

  • Why: People who don’t look like they’re legitimate buyers usually aren’t. While we should all be careful about judging people at first glance, paying attention to red flags and warning signs is necessary to avoid being scammed when selling your car. People with no online presence or those lacking verifiable information are often the most likely to be scammers. Always do a background check and ask your buyer for more details about them if you’re unsure.

  • How: Take a seller precaution and try to contact them to talk in person on the phone and watch out for people pretending to represent a buyer who is unavailable or too busy to conduct the transaction. Some fraudsters will pose as brokers, with buyers lined up looking for a car like yours. While some may be real brokers, many are not, so be sure to check out their credentials before paying any fees to them.

When in doubt, pull out

  • Why: If your gut is telling you that something isn’t quite right, pay attention to it. If payments seem dodgy or the person you’re looking to sell to has provided contact information that isn’t working, think twice before handing your car over. If, at any point during the transaction, you feel like you’re in danger, walk away and report your concerns to the authorities.

  • How: Don’t be afraid to pause the process to double-check everything. Always make sure that the money is in your bank account rather than relying on any documents sent by the buyer to prove that the transaction has taken place. It’s better to lose a potential buyer by walking away if you’re unsure than to get scammed by a phoney buyer and end up losing your car or your money – or both.

Take safety precautions

  • Why: Any person serious about buying your car should be more than willing to travel to where you are. This is a must for selling your car safely. After all, you’re the one selling. Scammers may lure sellers into unsafe or unfamiliar places to hijack their vehicle once they arrive.

  • How: Always try to take somebody with you to meetings or let people know where you’re going and what time you expect to return to offset some of the risks when selling your car. If you are faced with a dangerous situation or find yourself in peril, don’t risk your life for your car. It’s not worth it. But taking seller precautions and ensuring you’re in a safe place at all times will minimise the chances for criminals to take advantage of you.

Know who you’re dealing with

  • Why: When selling your car, most people who approach you to buy it are complete strangers. They could be anybody – a legitimate buyer or a professional scammer. Having an idea of who you’re selling your car to before doing it will help you avoid potential criminals and spot obvious scammers.

  • How: Run a background check by searching social media pages and following up with the information the buyer has provided. If something doesn’t check out, ask the buyer to explain or clarify. Watch out for criminal records or reports that the prospective buyer has scammed others before.

Get paid upfront

  • Why: Like any transaction, you should take a seller precaution and insist on getting paid before handing your property over. This ensures that a proper exchange has taken place and nobody ends up losing out. Scammers will often argue that they don’t have all the money with them but desperately need the car. Others will refuse to pay the full amount until they have the vehicle in their possession.

  • How: Ask for a deposit to hold in escrow before handing over the vehicle and while taking care of all the admin. You can hire a registered financial intermediary to hold the money so the buyer doesn’t think they’re getting scammed or ask the bank to assist. Never give the car to a buyer until they have paid in full or you have a written commitment from a legitimate organisation or financial institution that they will do so.

Get documents in order

  • Why: Documents provide proof of money transfers, who owns the vehicle and is legally required to sell a car. While some people choose to skip these important pieces of evidence, they will inevitably end up exposed later on, not to mention risk facing a situation where they don’t actually own the car they’ve paid for.

  • How: Verify your buyer’s identity with a bank, the police or even home affairs. Make sure that the buyer has bank-verified funds to pay you and that the transaction is legal and above board. Ensure that both parties sign all transfer of ownership documents and that everybody has copies of everything. Confirm that the buyer is now the registered owner before waiving your own claim and make sure all outstanding fines are paid off.

Beware the test drive

  • Why: Test drives are often where most car scams unfold. In South Africa, we all face the very real threat of violent hijackings and car thefts on a daily basis. Allowing a stranger to test drive your car presents scammers, hijackers and thieves with the perfect opportunity to steal your ride right in front of you. Plus, there’s the extra personal safety concern.

  • How: Always be safe and take extra seller precautions to protect yourself and your car in a test drive situation. Never allow a potential buyer to test drive your car by themselves, so always accompany them on the road. Only agree to test drives in safe, public areas that are well-lit and try to have somebody you know and trust with you at all times. Don’t forget to check if your insurance policy covers third-party accidents.

Conclusion - Why trading in your car or selling to an authorised dealer is safer

Instead of risking dealing with strangers and possible car scams, consider selling your car safely to an authorised dealer or trading it in. This ensures that you are transacting with registered, official buyers who can be contacted afterwards if something goes wrong and are unlikely to defraud you.

Trading in your car means you’ll have a replacement vehicle on the spot, and dealers will sometimes allow you to remain the official vehicle’s owner until they find a buyer or until they’ve paid you in full. If you're a buyer looking to avoid scams, check out this article.

Don’t be a victim. Keep an eye out for the risks when selling your car. Take seller precautions, be safe at all times and avoid the selling platforms, communication channels and situations where scammers thrive.

References & Resources

Link References:















  1. These provinces have seen a big spike in hijackings in South Africa – hotspot areas and cars being targeted.

General References: