In preparation for some future projects, I’ve started making efforts to cull my herd of cars. To list my car, I went to everyone’s favorite mildly sketchy sales website: Craigslist. Although the car for sale is a secret, for now, I encountered a weird new scam that I have yet to see after seven years of buying and selling about 15 cars on the platform. This one bizarrely focuses on a car’s VIN.

It started with the normal you up?-style text from a random inquirer from Craigslist. It had slightly strange grammar, but I still entertained the message and replied, mainly because it came from an area code that is local to Southern California and within a plausible distance to me, so it seemed like a real person.

Beware of This Shady VIN Check Scam Next Time You Sell a Car

The following conversation was also mildly strange, with the mystery person asking odd questions like, “do you do your oil changes routinely?” and, “have you owned it for a while now?” The oil change question is worded weirdly, but this primarily bugs me because I have detailed servicing information in my ad. I’ve had a few legitimately interested people text me about the car and asked more detailed questions than my ad, which is a good sign they read it. I’m not afraid to say, “That info is in the ad,” which is what I did.

For a second, the conversation returned to normal with pretty decent grammar and a realistic text. The offer to pay cash bit felt a little strange, but I responded to the request with a general time and extremely general location, to which they responded with a completely different time and a request for a VIN report. 

Beware of This Shady VIN Check Scam Next Time You Sell a Car

Then, it got extremely weird. I told the texter that the VIN is in the ad, which presents the opportunity to run individual reports with personal accounts. I also noted that the specified time didn’t work for me at all. That’s when the person hit me back with the definitive scam text. How did I know it was a scam? Well, the text asked me to run my VIN through a website that doesn’t even show up on a Google search and said that “only the owner” 

can pull the info.

Beware of This Shady VIN Check Scam Next Time You Sell a Car

I visited the site and it immediately prompted me for unusual information like a phone number and asked for the normal VIN and email address. In the name of journalism, I entered a mixture of bogus info with an old email, a VIN from a car that got wrecked a few years ago, and an utterly fictional phone number. To nobody’s surprise, I was immediately taken to a payment information screen that wanted to take $25 from my pocketbook.

Beware of This Shady VIN Check Scam Next Time You Sell a Car

That is all the confirmation I needed that this was a scam. In fact, I found an FTC warning for this sort of behavior from 2018. Needless to say, I did not pay for this fraudulent VIN report (nor should you). Steer clear of any prospective buyer forcing you to spend money on this sort of thing. The normal Carfax and physical inspection is plenty. I’m amazed it took me this long to get hit with this, and it feels legit to some degree thanks to the local phone number and real human interaction. Still, I’m willing to bet the phone number was fabricated, and this is a remote scam.

Watch out for this one, folks, and definitely do not pay for some random VIN report when you can get them free from plenty of legit sites. Stay safe and don’t give out your info.

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