Ask A Trooper: Worried about scams when buying a car

Published 5:40 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Sgt. Troy Christianson

Question: I am looking at purchasing my first vehicle but I am worried about scams. Do you have any advice for me? Thank you.

Answer: ​Here is some information we recently shared on our Minnesota Department of Public Safety blog. Picture this: You are excited about buying a car. You drive it home, but later find out the odometer had been rolled back thousands of miles, it was stolen, or it had previous damage the seller didn’t tell you about — all devastating news.

Email newsletter signup

Scams like this are happening right here in Minnesota. That’s why our Minnesota State Patrol Investigative Services Section is warning people to be on the lookout for signs the deal might be fraudulent.

“If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, make sure you know what you’re getting and who you’re getting it from,” State Patrol Capt. Jason Bartell said. “Trust your instincts. If it appears too good to be true, it probably is.”

Buying a new car is a big decision. Our investigators recommend doing your research before handing over any money. Look up the value of the vehicle you’re looking to buy. There are several sites online that can give you a good idea of what the price should be.

Whether you’re buying from a dealership or a private seller, request a vehicle history report from a company such as Carfax or Autocheck. Look over the previous crashes that vehicle has been a part of and the previous work that’s been done on the vehicle. Make sure the mileage is consistent and doesn’t have any sudden huge changes.

If you’re buying from a dealership:

• Look up the business online and review what customers are saying. 

• Make sure you understand each part of the negotiated deal, including any warranty, and that each part is in writing.

•Read all the paperwork. Minnesota law requires the dealer to notify you of prior damage exceeding 80% of the value or the existence of any title brand, which is a label on a vehicle title that depicts its status, such as salvage, flood, junk, etc.

• Complete the transaction at the dealer’s place of business.

If you’re buying your new-to-you vehicle from a private party:

• Be suspicious of any deal requesting you put money down or transfer funds before seeing the vehicle.

• Ask if they are the owner and if they possess the title. Verify the name on the title is the person that is selling the vehicle with their state ID, driver’s license or another form of identification. Look at the title to see if it shows a lien or a security interest on the vehicle. If it states the name of a bank or credit union, then there is a lien.

• Be wary. Fraud often occurs with out-of-state titles, and sellers that are not listed on the title.

• Make sure each part of the deal is in writing. The bill of sale or receipt should be signed by all parties and include the names of all seller(s) and purchaser(s), as well as a vehicle description that includes the make, model, year and VIN. Include the date of the sale, the price of the vehicle and the vehicle’s mileage. We recommend getting the document notarized.

• Complete the transaction at a safe location and transfer the title at a local deputy registrar’s office together with the seller. If this is not possible, make sure to transfer the title within 10 days as required by state law.

• Take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic for an inspection.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson – Minnesota State Patrol at 2900 48th Street NW, Rochester MN 55901-5848.  (Or reach him at,