Buying a car on Facebook? Here's how to avoid scams

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Buying a car on Facebook? Here's how to avoid scams

Millions of people use Facebook Marketplace to look for cars each day, apparently, according to Facebook. I would not know. I don't trust strangers and plan to drive my car for another hundred years.

To help this group of alleged millions, Facebook announced plans to partner with Edmunds, Cars.com, Auction123, CDK Global and Socialdealer to expand the used car inventory in the Marketplace. Facebook is also upgrading its vehicles section to allow shoppers to filter by year, make, model, mileage, vehicle type and transmission. Users will be able to see car values from Kelley Blue Book and use Facebook Messenger to chat with dealers.

Why shop on Facebook? People shopping for cars on the Marketplace are looking for the same thing as shoppers on Craigslist: a deal.

"They like to feel like they found something everyone else has missed," said Jason Lancaster, founder and editor of AccurateAutoAdvice.com.

With this move, it looks like Facebook is trying to make shopping on the Marketplace more similar to shopping on a dealer website, Lancaster said. However, car buying still has to be completed in person, no matter how streamlined the web experience. Because of that, Lancaster isn't sure the new Marketplace features will make much of a difference for buyers, especially since many dealers already list cars on Facebook.

For dealers, this may be another way to reach customers, but they still need to get people to come to the dealership.

The process of buying a car from a regular person can be complex. The seller may have a loan on the car. Both sides need to have the proper paperwork and determine how to exchange a large sum of money safely. Facebook may add a layer of comfort because you can see each other's profiles and friends, but the system can be abused, Lancaster said.

Protecting yourself from fraud

I asked Facebook how it would protect Marketplace car buyers from fraud. The company didn't respond before post time.

Lancaster's advice is to avoid it and buy from a franchised new car dealer. Automakers require these dealers to adhere to strict standards. Most states regulate used car dealerships as well.

"You have a lot of protections there that are enforced by the automakers," Lancaster said.

You're much more likely to be ripped off by a random person on Facebook, Craigslist, Backpage or some other website. You may have to deal with unscrupulous sales tactics at a dealership, but you're less likely to meet a hardened criminal, Lancaster said. It can be easy for a seller to trick someone into buying a car that's been flood damaged or stolen.

Buyers can take a few steps to avoid being swindled, Lancaster said.

  1. Meet in a public place.
  2. Bring a friend. It's harder for someone to lie to multiple people, Lancaster said.
  3. Know what the car is worth. You can research this online at Kelley Blue Book or other sites.
  4. Plan to have the car inspected by a professional.
  5. If the inspection and a test drive are OK, you can consummate the transaction. Make sure to complete a bill of sale. You can find a template online.

Lancaster recommends taking this final step in the lobby of a bank.

"The bank has a security guard, the bank has cameras and the bank has my money," he said.

Above all, be suspicious before going into any transaction, Lancaster said. A great bargain can be a mirage.

"If you see a deal that's too good to be true and your radar doesn't go off at that point, you're probably going to get burned," he said.

Seeking more car knowledge? Check out our Autogenius section.

Image: JackF