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Guest Blog: Buying a car on Craigslist? Know who you are buying from!

From The Official Blog of the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation

shutterstock_622092908.jpgConsumers often consider buying from a private seller as an alternative to buying from a used car dealer. An increasingly common scam involves dealers posing as private sellers and posting vehicles under the “for sale by-owner” section of Craigslist.  This practice is also known as “curbstoning.”

One version of this scam involves licensed dealers who partner with an unlicensed individual who poses as the vehicle’s owner on Craigslist. The seller completes the transaction somewhere other than the dealership, but the name of the dealership may not be on the title and purchase documents. Then, if the buyer contacts the seller about problems with the car, the seller says it was never their car. If the consumer contacts the dealership, the dealer may say that they’re not responsible because the car was sold offsite.

Another version of this scam involves unlicensed dealers who fraudulently purchase cars at wholesale auctions by paying a licensed dealer to use their auction license number.  They may also obtain their cars through a title skipping scam in which they target individuals who need to sell their car quickly, pay a low cash price for the car and re-sell it for a much higher price without putting their own name on the title. According to Massachusetts state law, anyone who sells more than three cars in a twelve month period is considered a dealer and must have a Class 2 dealer license.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation can provide helpful information to consumers who have been victimized by these types of scams:

  • Print out a copy of the Craigslist ad. It may come in handy if the original post has expired. Even if we can’t connect the unlicensed seller with a licensed dealer, the unlicensed seller must participate in a Lemon Law hearing if they sold three or more cars or if they took a fee to sell the car for someone else.
  • Attempt to contact both the seller and the dealership (if you have the dealerships contact information). Regardless of where you bought the car and whether it was new or used, you may have rights under the state’s Lemon Law protections. If the car has over 125,000 miles then the dealer is bound by the Implied Warranty of Merchantability.
  • Contact the licensing authority for the city or town where the dealership is located. Selling cars in the scenarios previously described is illegal and dealers can lose their licenses, and both licensed and unlicensed dealers can be fined.
  • Contact our office. We recently assisted five consumers who had problems with cars they purchased on Craigslist, and who thought they were buying from private sellers.
  • Check out our blogs on curbstoning and private party sales. The information can help you determine if you might be buying a car from a curbstoner.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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