Craigslist is great for many things. Finding jobs that no one wants. Finding beds that have seen better days. Finding companionship. For an hour, anyway.
It's also very popular with people selling cars. If you're one of them, watch out for a new scam that could defraud you of your vehicle, leaving you with nothing but a sense of regret and perhaps a lingering auto loan.
The ploy seems most popular in the Midwest -- specifically, Chicago. As scams go, it's not very complicated. It doesn't involve sappy backstories or meeting in specific locations or selling to particular buyers or anything else.
But that's what makes it so tricky, so confounding: it can work anywhere.
Simply put, criminals are forging checks. The forgeries have been good enough to dupe nearly 100 sellers in recent months (and their title transfer agents). Those folks have signed over their vehicles to the duplicitous buyers, watched them drive away, then tried to cash the checks, only to discover that they're fakes.
Ordinarily, a story like this wouldn't get much press. Someone takes a fake check for a car? That's not very newsworthy.
Except in this case, there are three major differences:
1. The forgeries are very, very good. They're likely the work of one sprawling, well-coordinated team of ne'er-do-wells.
2. The scam is focused on specific states. In some states, lenders retain the title to a vehicle until the car loan is paid off. That means that fewer people have titles on hand -- a major problem for car thieves who want documentation for their booty. This scam, however, centers on states where drivers receive titles to their vehicles before they finish paying off their loans, making it much easier for the baddies.
3. Lenders are involved. While some scam victims have probably kept paying their notes, just to keep up their credit scores, others have defaulted on their loans. That's put a dent in lenders' coffers, and lenders aren't the type to take things like that sitting down.
Bottom line: if you're selling a car -- on Craiglist or anywhere else -- get some greenbacks in hand before signing it over. Otherwise, you could be out of a car and some cash, and your vehicle could be on its way to a shipping container, bound for parts unknown.