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Consumers looking to purchase used cars often consider buying from a private seller as an alternative to buying through a dealership. They may research vehicles for sale by owner through online platforms such as Craigslist, or see vehicles with “For Sale” signs on private property. While buying a vehicle through a private party car sale may seem like a relatively fast and easy option, consumers should be aware that they might be buying from a curbstoner.

“Curbstoning” is the illegal sale of used cars for profit, commonly by unlicensed dealers who make a profit by repeatedly “flipping” cars. A curbstoner may put dealer plates on the car to make the sale seem authentic and lure customers who are wary of buying cars from a dealership. Alternately, some curbstoners are actually licensed dealers who pose as private sellers in order to make a profit on the side. According to Massachusetts state law, anyone who sells more than three cars in a twelve month period is considered a dealer and must have a Class 2 dealer’s license.

For consumers who are looking to buy a car, beware. If you buy your next car from a curbstoner, there could be consequences:

  • If the car is unsafe, has mechanical problems, or has been written off as a total loss by an insurance company due to collision, flood, or other damage, you may not even know about the danger. Aside from potentially putting yourself, your passengers, or fellow motorists at risk, curbstoners can be difficult to track down and you may risk losing the protections under the Lemon Law.
  • If you buy a vehicle from a curbstoner you could have title problems at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
  • Curbstoners are illegally avoiding paying the licensing fees and overhead costs that are required of all legitimate Massachusetts dealers, as well as required sales tax and registration fees. Therefore, curbstoning causes state and local governments to lose millions of dollars in revenues and fees.

Curbstoning

What can you do to avoid dealing with a curbstoner? While there is no way to ensure a problem-free experience, there are several red flags to be aware of and precautionary steps you can take to avoid being a victim of curbstoning. Our office offers the following advice:

  • Compare the seller’s name on his or her license with the name on the title.  If they do not match, do not buy the car. Massachusetts law mandates that the title be in the seller’s name.
  • Make sure the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), make, model, and year match what is listed on the title.
  • Ask questions about the car’s history and mileage. If the seller cannot answer them, be suspicious.
  • Do a search online or in the classified pages for your seller’s phone number. If there are multiple cars listed under that number, chances are good that the seller is a curbstoner.
  • Determine the value of the car through online appraisal tools such as Edmond’s or Kelley Blue Book. Remember that the curbstoner may list cars at enticingly low prices and still make a profit.  If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Ask for an independent inspection of the vehicle before signing any purchase documents. A curbstoner would not likely agree to this.
  • Keep in mind, it is illegal for a dealer to sell cars anywhere other than the address of their dealership.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education.

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