Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Used Car Buying Scams – Craigslist By Owner Part 1

October 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Sales And Marketing

In my last article, I talked about the offsite dealer scam.  If you missed it, here’s the link to read all about it:

In this article, I’m going to continue by talking about how to spot dealers on Craigslist.

Dealers of course get a lot of cars from auctions.  Unfortunately, when you buy from an auction, many times you don’t know what you’re getting.  Dealers don’t care really because they have onsite mechanics that fix a lot of things for cheap and then mark up the cars and make decent profits.  If you do want to buy a car from an auction, I discovered that there’s one that nationally recognized as the one to attend.  That would be Manheim Auto Auctions.  You can find their locations by going to their website here:  If you don’t know anything about auctions though, either you’ll feel like there’s a bunch of clowns there or you’ll feel like the clown yourself.

Since I don’t know anything about buying at auctions and I don’t have any mechanics on retainer for cheap, I decided to go the online website route to find a car from individual owners.  Now there are a lot of sites out there and the one I decided to focus on was Craigslist.  What I discovered an eye opening experience!

So the first thing to realize is that when you’re looking for cars on Craigslist, you can sort “By Owner”, “By Dealer”, or by both owner and dealer.  Ideally, “By Owner” means the actual owner of the car.


What you’ll discover though is that a lot of dealers or car flippers will post in the “By Owner” section of Craigslist and not the “By Dealer” section of Craigslist.  This could be somewhat frustrating as you know, dealer cars are often times marked up a decent amount.  That’s how they make their money after all.  So filtering them out ideally should give you only personal sellers of cars which sometimes give you better deals and are easier to work with.

Now before I get into detecting dealer ads, why would a dealer post in the “By Owner” section instead of the “By Dealer” section?  First because they want to find people like you and me who don’t look for dealer “deals” and secondly, because it costs them $5 for every ad they post.  This could add up if they have a lot of cars.

One dealer I talked to posted the same car 3 times a day on Craigslist… every day!  I asked him how he did it:

Me: P.S. do you have a software program that posts to craigslist or are you doing that manually? Curious as you have like 15 ads out there for this car. 7:36 PM

Seller: Manually with a few email accounts lol 7:39 PM


So without further adieu, here are some surefire signs that a post is a dealer post and not an owner post.

Tell Tale Dealer Picture

First, if the post actually has a dealer’s website on it, then obviously it’s a dealer.   I hate it when a Craigslist post does not have pictures on it.  Why would you want to sell a car without posting pictures… unless you either don’t really want to sell, you’re a complete idiot, or you’re a scammer (wait until you read about the Google Wallet scam later on!).  When they do put pictures into the post though, look at them.  Pay attention to what’s behind and around the car.  See if there are any signs of a dealership or automotive shop.  If you see one, more likely than not, it’s a dealer selling the car “By Owner”.

Here’s an example of a “By Owner” ad that looked like a dealer listing to me. The car has “For Sale” tags inside and the pictures are in a big open lot.  The sign in the background looks like it might say “Used Trucks”.


Here’s a closer look at the picture itself.

Potential Dealer Pic

Notice the “For Sale” tag inside the car and the “Used Truck” sign in the back.

So I do a quick Google search for Used Car dealerships in the Burlington, WI area just to check it out.  Seems there are 3 – 4 dealers in the area.  The first one didn’t match the building in one of the pictures.  Notice a brown building with a bench on the side.

Brown Bench

The second dealership turned out to be a perfect match!  Here’s the Google Earth view of the dealership.  Notice the brown building, the bench in front, and the “Used Trucks” sign on the right.  And there you go.  A dealer posting as “By Owner”.  Take note of his phone number and ad type because he’ll probably have a few more listings somewhere on Craigslist.

dealer lot

Reverse Phone Lookup

If it doesn’t have a dealer website on it and it “looks” like a dealer, simply highlight the phone number they have listed and do a Google search on it.  Many times it will pull up the actual dealer itself.

Another sign that they are a dealer is if you find either the name of the dealership itself or if they’ve got a lot of cars listed with the same phone number.  A normal person would not be selling a bunch of cars.  A normal dealership would.  Again, a quick Google search will show you all the car ads with the same phone number.

Here’s a sample picture to do a reverse phone lookup on.



A quick Google search on the phone number pulls up a few results.  All I did was highlight the phone number, right click on the highlighted numbers and then choose, “Search Google for ‘847-858-…”   Here’s what I got for the results:


reverse phone number

Notice how many different cars they are selling.  In addition, it tells you the name of the dealership in the website itself.

Random Parking Lot

Next, if the pictures of the car are in some random parking lot or in the middle of bufu with nothing else around it, it might be a dealer listing.  Or, if the pictures of the car are in a parking lot full of other cars, that too is a sure sign of a dealer listing.  The exception is of course if the owner lives in an apartment complex.  Here are some random parking lot photos.




All those cars ended up being dealerships after a few quick searches on Google for verification.  Understand that most people who are selling their own cars will have pictures in a driveway in front of their house or on the street in a neighborhood (typically their neighborhood).  If you see a bunch of car pictures in an empty parking lot somewhere, it could be a dealer who doesn’t want to have their dealership in the background so they could sell “By Owner” instead of the “By Dealer” area and save $5!

Hopefully you’re getting a good idea of how to spot a dealer ad in the “By Owner” section so far.  Realize I’m not saying that all used cars from dealers are bad.  What I am saying is that many of the more “legit” dealers post “By Dealer” and not “By Owner”.  If they are posting “By Owner”, they are either a very small dealership just looking to save a buck and get more clients or they’re possibly looking to unload a vehicle quickly due to some other issues you don’t want to be a part of (make sure you read my last post on Used Car Buying Scams here:

And hey, I’m just getting warmed up.  So stay tuned for the next post when I uncover even more ways dealers are posting under the “By Owner” section of Craigslist including my Number 1 way of figuring it out quickly and easily!

Until then, Celebrate Life!