Realizing that I was about due for a blog entry, I figured this would be a good topic.
Here are some ways to identify a scam email. This doesn't just apply to craigslist ads, but any similar email from a variety of sources for a variety of reasons. This just happened to be something I got today as a result of a Craigslist ad. Fifteen years ago, the same thing was happening from newspaper ads, just a little less techified (yes, I just made that word up).
So anyway, I received an email from Craigslist that had the following text:
First red flag: That's a very generic email about a specific item. Normally, when people are interested in something you have for sale, they tend to be a little more verbose. Mostly. Maybe not always. Another oddity was the lack of punctuation."Do you still have the above subject still available for sale thanks"
Second red flag: The sender email address didn't match the name on the email account. That was the big tip-off. It's such a simple thing, but it's often the case and is easy to spot.
Hmmm.... steve howell at firstname.lastname@example.org
Normally, this is all you will need to disposition this email as scam/fraud/spam. In fact, at the bottom of the email from craigslist, they provide a link to report it. It will say "If this email is a scam or spam please flag it now,"and will give you a hyperlink. When you report it, you will see this:
That's it. Your job is done. Pat yourself on the back for being the super sleuth you are, and also for being a good netizen (I did not make that word up).
As I said, I was a little bored and curious, so I replied with a simple, "It is."
A few hours later I got the actual scam email. Here it is:
"I would be really glad to get it asap, i'm not going to be around to come look at it before the purchase but the price and condition is good with me but i'm so busy for now and this is because we are running around to set up a band and studio as well and we will need this asap.Am offering extra $30 to the asking price.
My payment will be made by bank check or cashier check which will be delivered to you as soon as i get your details. My shipper will come for the pick up as soon as payment is certified by your bank. Also I will be adding an excess to the payment that will be sent to you which you will assist me in sending the the balance to my shipper for their service charge.I really need this, quite important and urgent. I will be more than glad if it can be sold to me. Email me back with a Name, Address and your phone# for the check, write back soon. Regards."
Now we get to learn the scam. If you made it this far, either because you missed the red flags I mentioned above, or those flags didn't exist for you, then here are some things that stand out about this message.
First and foremost...we have another email address issue. This response from "steve howell" came from a different email address than I originally replied to. This time it was from steve howell at email@example.com.
We have yet another poorly worded and punctuation-lacking email. This one tells us the set up. Here's how it works:
- They prey on the fact that you really want to sell your item, and know you may take a risk or go against your better judgment if it means a chance for success.
- They impart a sense of urgency, which puts you in a rush position, where you are less likely to fully consider the circumstances.
- They always agree to purchase your item sight-unseen, for a myriad of reasons.
- They sweeten the pot a bit by offering to give you more than you are asking.
- They offer payment by cashier or bank check.
- They have a "shipper" who will pick up the item.
- And here is the part where they make money. They need you to help them pay for the shipper, so they send you extra money, and then they will have you forward that off to someone else. It's of no cost to you, because the check they send you is for more than enough to cover the price of your item PLUS a little extra for your trouble PLUS the shipping fees.
So what's the big deal? What's the harm in this? You sell your item, make a little extra money, and help a fellow human being out in a crunch. It's not a bad deal, is it?
Well, not unless the cashier's check or bank check is fraudulent. It will be. Trust me.
This is how the scam works...everything I mentioned above falls into place nicely. You get check, you deposit it. You then do your part and send off the "shipping fees" to the shipper. It might be a few hundred bucks or more -- but it was covered by the check. Well, a few weeks after your money is long sent, the bank will contact you to tell you that the check you deposited was fraudulent. Guess what? That "shipping money" is now YOUR money, and you lost it. That's the scam in a nutshell.
The more expensive the item you are trying to sell, the more likelihood you will get a similar email. The higher dollar or bigger items justify higher "shipping costs" so they can take you for more money at once before you have time to realize what just happened.
What's the best way to protect yourself?
Reading this hopefully helped. Above that, follow Craigslist's Published Safety Tips:
You can sidestep would-be scammers by following these common-sense rules:
- DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts on craigslist.
- NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM or any other wire service - anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.
- FAKE CASHIER CHECKS & MONEY ORDERS ARE COMMON, and BANKS WILL CASH THEM AND THEN HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE when the fake is discovered weeks later.
- CRAIGSLIST IS NOT INVOLVED IN ANY TRANSACTION, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer "buyer protection" or "seller certification"
- NEVER GIVE OUT FINANCIAL INFORMATION (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)
- AVOID DEALS INVOLVING SHIPPING OR ESCROW SERVICES and know that ONLY A SCAMMER WILL "GUARANTEE" YOUR TRANSACTION.
- DO NOT RENT HOUSING WITHOUT SEEING THE INTERIOR, OR PURCHASE EXPENSIVE ITEMS SIGHT-UNSEEN - in all likelihood that housing unit is not actually for rent and that cheap item does not exist.
- DO NOT SUBMIT TO CREDIT CHECKS OR BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR A JOB OR FOR HOUSING UNTIL YOU HAVE MET THE INTERVIEWER OR LANDLORD/AGENT IN PERSON.
Stay Alert. Be Safe.
I received another spam email this week. I figured I would just add the new information to the end of this post since I realize that many of you are landing here from google searches for the email addresses and names of spammers who are contacting you. Hopefully adding them in here will help you make a quick decision on whether your "buyer" is legit or not. Keep in mind, I'm not *TRYING* to get them to contact me...I just have stuff for sale, and they are trying to take advantage of that.
The latest email was from firstname.lastname@example.org
with a reply-to email of email@example.com.
The text of the message was simply:
Do still have it available for sale?
Do you think this message fits the suspicious criteria I named above? Absolutely!
Got yet another email today:
from: mich <firstname.lastname@example.org>
reply-to: mich <email@example.com>
Still available? please send me more pictures of it so that i can make my decision of purchase thanks Clifford...
Mich? Clifford? Ugh.