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Cars & Getting Around

Spotting Curbers: How to Avoid Unlicensed Sellers

How to avoid "curbers" when buying a used car.


"The ad on Craigslist looked so tempting. The vintage Buick was a beauty, the price was good. The seller asked to meet at his cousin’s house, which I thought was odd, but when I took the Buick for a test drive, it ran great. The seller told me he was selling the car on behalf of his cousin. I was worried, but then the cousin told me over the phone that he approved of the deal. So I signed the paperwork to buy the car. Two weeks later, the real owner called to say he wanted the car back. I phoned the seller. I got a 'phone out of service' message. I'd been taken by a curber."

– Carlos, Surrey

A significant percentage of car ads that look like they are placed by private sellers are actually placed by curbers. A curber is someone who sells cars to earn income, but has not been licensed as a car dealer. Many curbers misrepresent the real condition of the car, hide major issues, or fail to disclose liens.

Buying a used car from a curber is particularly risky because there are laws that offer you protection if you buy a car from a licensed car dealer but not if you buy from a private seller. If you buy from a curber and have a problem, often your only option is to go to court.

Here are four steps you can take to protect yourself from curbers.

Step 1. Verify the seller’s identity

Ask the seller to see a piece of their ID such as a driver’s licence, as well as the original vehicle registration form (not a photocopy).

Step 2. Check that the seller owns the car

Check the owner and address information on the vehicle registration form.

  • Does the owner name match the seller’s name on their ID?
  • Does the address information match the location of the sale?

If either doesn’t match, ask the seller why that is the case.

Step 3. Be alert for warning signs

Look for these warning signs that a seller may be a curber: 

  • the seller doesn’t have the original vehicle registration form 
  • the name on the registration form is not the same as the seller’s 
  • the seller’s phone number is listed in multiple ads for cars for sale 
  • the seller asks to meet at a parking lot or somewhere other than their home
  • the seller asks for payment to be made in cash

The Vehicle Sales Authority of BC, which helps resolve complaints with licensed car dealers, has additional tips on how to spot a curber.

Step 4. Find out if the seller is licensed

Car dealers in BC must be licensed by the Vehicle Sales Authority of BC (VSA) and follow certain laws.

It’s a widespread myth that a person can sell five vehicles a year without being licensed as a car dealer. Anyone selling five or more vehicles per year is automatically deemed to be a car dealer under BC law. This law helps authorities take action against curbers. It is not an exemption to being licensed. The sale of even one vehicle to a retail consumer as a business activity may require a licence.

The VSA website features a public registry of licensed dealers. If you think the seller is someone who should be licensed as a car dealer, you can search the registry to confirm whether or not they are licensed.

Learn more about how to protect yourself when buying a used car, and the steps to negotiate and finalize the sale.


Driving in BC

This publication explains the laws relating to getting a driver's licence and driving a car in BC.Read more


Steering Clear of Fraud When Buying a Used Car

Steps to avoid being ripped off when buying a used car.


"When I bought a car privately last year, my sister suggested I do a lien check. I laughed. I had no idea what a lien was; why search for one?! I had found a Mazda on Craigslist. I took it for a test drive, my mechanic inspected it, the price was good. I bought it. It wasn’t until the car was towed by a bailiff  that I learned the seller had used the car as collateral on a loan. The bank seized my car under the lien it held. I had no idea they could just tow away my car even though I didn’t owe them a cent."

– William, Richmond

Each year, British Columbians buy more than 400,000 used vehicles, double the number of new vehicles purchased. Of the used vehicles bought in the province, a third are private sales, where the risks of fraud can be greater than when buying from a car dealer.

Whether you are buying privately or from a dealer, here are seven steps you can take to reduce the chances of being a victim of fraud when buying a used car.

Step 1. Inspect the car in daylight

When you’re buying a used car, it’s always important to give the inside and the outside a thorough inspection and take a test drive to make sure the car is in the same condition as the seller is advertising. Arrange to view the car in daylight, preferably when it’s dry. It’s harder to spot damage to the car if it’s wet.

ICBC has a checklist of what to look for when inspecting a used car and taking it for a test drive.

Step 2. Check the vehicle identification number

Make sure the vehicle identification number on the car—known as the VIN—matches the number on the vehicle registration form. The most common places to find the VIN are on the dashboard identification plate or the inside door panel on the driver’s side.

Check that the VIN has not been tampered with. Signs of tampering include loose or mismatched rivets, scratched numbers, tape, glue or paint. If the VIN has been tampered with, it’s a sign the vehicle may have been stolen.

Step 3. Check for odometer rollbacks

Look at the actual odometer.

  • Do all the numbers line up?
  • Is there any evidence of sabotage (scratches, cracks) in and around the odometer?
  • Does the wear and tear of the vehicle show more use than the mileage indicates?

Step 4. Do a lien search

Particularly if you’re buying a car from a private seller, it’s important to check for liens. A lien is a legal claim made on someone else’s property to make sure they pay a debt. Liens are attached to a vehicle, not to its owner. If you buy a vehicle with a lien on it and the previous owner fails to pay a debt, the lien holder can take the vehicle from you as payment.  

In BC, liens are registered in the Personal Property Registry in Victoria.

For $10, you can do a lien search on the car yourself: 

Alternatively, you can also use a private company that searches titles or provides vehicle history reports. For example, CarProof provides Canada-wide lien information—including BC results—as part of its vehicle history report.

Step 5. Get a vehicle history report

A vehicle history report can tell you if the car has previously been in an accident, reported stolen, or written off and later repaired and returned to the road. Some vehicle history reports will also tell you if the seller still owes money on the car.

You can order a vehicle history report through ICBC (for $20) or a private company such as CarProof (for $40 to $70).

Step 6. Get an independent inspection

Get an independent, licensed mechanic to give the car a detailed inspection. An independent inspection usually costs around $100 to $200, depending on the mechanic and the extent of the inspection. 

If the seller is resisting having an independent inspection done (“the car’s in great shape, I just had it fully checked out!”), that’s often a red flag. Insist that you get an inspection done. As a consumer, it’s your right to have an independent inspection.

The seller may ask you to provide a deposit or sign an offer to purchase prior to having the car inspected. You can insist that any deposit you make be refundable and that any documentation you sign say that you are not bound to go through with the sale until you approve the results of the inspection.

Step 7. Don’t pay before you get the car

Never agree to pay for the car upfront or send money via wire transfer. While a small deposit can be a great way to let the seller know you’re serious about purchasing the car, don’t hand over the full amount to the seller until the day the car is ready to go home with you.

If the seller requests an escrow service (a third party that acts as a go between you and the seller), investigate the service to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. Many online escrow sites are fraudulent.

Learn more about how to protect yourself when buying a used car, and the steps to negotiate and finalize the sale.

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