How NOT to sell a car or get a free credit report

In my job, I’m always hearing cautionary stories about consumers falling into traps they didn’t expect. It’s hard to do research about every pitfall that might exist.

John Pettitt, for example, ignored one vital step when selling his car privately. He didn’t insist on proof that the new owner had changed the ownership papers.

As a result, he was hit with towing and storage charges for the vehicle long after the sale. The bill he was asked to pay ($798) was equal to the sale proceeds.

I wrote about his dilemma and followed up with a second column after the towing company agreed to waive the bill.

Automotive writer Jil McIntosh covered this issue here. She added a warning about personal safety when selling a car privately.

Earlier this year, an Ontario man was murdered when he advertised his truck online and took it to a potential buyer.

If you agree to meet someone, make sure you’re going to a busy public place and never go alone. Ask for the person’s name and phone number beforehand and then call back to see if the number is accurate.

It’s not ideal to have a buyer come to your house, but if it must happen, don’t be on your own. Have a friend or family member there with you.

Close your garage door so no one can see inside, and if possible, find another place to park other cars you own.

Ask to see identification when you meet the person and look at his driver’s license, including the expiry date, if you’re going to let him test-drive the car. Honest buyers shouldn’t have any issues with proving they’re legitimate.

As for credit reports, readers often think they have to pay to get one. While Equifax and TransUnion sell instant online access to credit reports, mail delivery is always free.

Access to credit scores, however, is never free. The credit score is a profit centre for the reporting agencies, as is the sale of monthly credit monitoring services.

A reader named Ian signed up for Equifax’s Complete Advantage credit monitoring plan at $15 a month, since he could get his credit report and credit score included at no charge.

More than 18 months after trying to cancel, he’s still paying for the service and asked me for help getting rid of it. I’m sure that Equifax will release him shortly.

You can find Ian’s story below. It’s a compelling yarn about the company’s bureaucratic practices and disdain for personal privacy in a dispute.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

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