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Test Drive Robbery

10 November 2020

Lockdown has had a major effect on the finances of many South African households. To reduce expenses, some households will consider selling their car, particularly if it is a second vehicle and doesn’t get much use, or to downgrade. Often, the option of selling a car privately is more appealing, as the seller could make more money through a private sale.

Lately, this seems to be a viable option for many people. Search and sales data on AutoTrader noted a significant increase in listings for private sales in July and August this year. July 2020 saw a 139% year-on-year increase in people selling privately, while there was a 136% increase in August 2020.

But selling your vehicle privately comes with risks. Sellers need to be wary of fraudsters and potential robbers while they let people test drive their car. Here are some things to consider when selling your car privately to keep you safe.

Protect your personal information – Be careful not to give out too much information when selling your car, whether in the advert or talking over the phone with potential buyers. Criminals could use it against you. Also, make sure any photos you post online don’t have geotag data embedded in them, which could give away your home address.

Don’t meet the buyers at your home – You won’t normally invite strangers to visit your home, so don’t do it while selling your car. Rather take the car and meet the buyers at a shopping complex or similar public place. Choose a place that is busy, and preferably one with video surveillance.

Set appointments during the day – Rather meet potential buyers during daylight hours. Criminals like to use the cover of darkness.

Buddy up – Get a friend to go along with you. Also, let someone that won’t be going with you know of the plans. Get them to give you a call after a specified time to check that everything is okay. Some tracking services have apps that you can use to share your location with such a person. They can then follow your route and know where you are at all times.

Test your tracking device – Make sure your tracking device is working and that your tracking company has up-to-date emergency contacts listed on your tracking profile.

Limit your accessories – Have your cell phone with you so that you are contactable, but keep the stuff that you carry with you to a minimum. Don’t carry unnecessary valuables with you or have them in the car.

Request identification – Besides getting their full name and contact number, get a form of identification from the buyers, which might be helpful if things go pear-shaped. They will be driving your car, so they need to bring their driver’s licence along. Request a copy or take a photo. This shouldn’t faze a legitimate buyer, but might act as a deterrent to criminals.

Don’t just hand over the keys – It might seem silly, but make sure you’re actually in the car before you give the keys to the test driver and get them back before exiting the vehicle. Otherwise they could just drive off and leave you in the dust.

Remain vigilant – If something doesn’t seem right, or it feels unsafe, trust your gut and take the necessary steps to extricate yourself from the situation. Whether that means not meeting with the potential buyers in the first place, or leaving immediately when the hackles on your back rise. Have a back-up plan in case of an emergency.

“Criminals are always looking for ways to strike when you least expect it,” says Ron Knott-Craig, Executive: Operational Services at Tracker South Africa. “If you are robbed, remember your life is worth more than your valuables, so keep calm, co-operate and try to get away as quickly as possible. Report the incident to your tracking company and the SAPS as soon as you can.”