Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Craigslist Scam :: Identify and Avoid :: Here's How

I recently listed an item for sale on Craigslist and was contacted by a scammer.  Normally I would just ignore such things, but my curiosity (and boredom) got the best of me today.  I was really curious what the angle was going to be -- hoping it may be something new and interesting.  I was expecting too much. It was the same 'ol scam as usual.

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:
"Do you still have the above subject still available for sale thanks"
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. 

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.

Depending on how you read your email, you may see the user's email address presented to you by default.  In this case, the message said it was from steve howell via craigslist.org.  When I hover over the name, however, I get a little popup window that shows me the email address associated with that sender. In this case, it was lisajones0001@gmail.com.

Hmmm.... steve howell at lisajones0001@gmail.com

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 internationaholdingscompany@gmail.com.

 We have yet another poorly worded and punctuation-lacking email.  This one tells us the set up.  Here's how it works:


  1. 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.
  2. They impart a sense of urgency, which puts you in a rush position, where you are less likely to fully consider the circumstances.
  3. They always agree to purchase your item sight-unseen, for a myriad of reasons.
  4. They sweeten the pot a bit by offering to give you more than you are asking.
  5. They offer payment by cashier or bank check. 
  6. They have a "shipper" who will pick up the item.
  7. 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. 
At http://www.craigslist.org/about/scams, they also have some examples of similar scams and contact information to report if you are a victim of such.

Stay Alert. Be Safe.

UPDATE:

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 tonja.baby102@gmail.com
with a reply-to email of collinsmike100@gmail.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!

UPDATE: (Again)

Got yet another email today:

from: mich <fawcetttom6@gmail.com>
reply-to: mich <truck.trader1234@gmail.com>

Text:
Still available? please send me more pictures of it so that i can make my decision of purchase thanks Clifford...

Mich?  Clifford?  Ugh.  

10 comments:

  1. Thank you just read this right after getting a e mail from steve howell you saved my 600$ guitar! Got same e mails word for word. Thank you so much

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  2. Thanks for posting this information! I received a similar e-mail today and was questioning the contents. You confirmed my suspicions.

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  3. Thanks as well from me! Got the same e-mail you did and a search for internationaholdingscompany took me here...thought it was a scam but I figured I'd do a quick search just to check it out.

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    1. I got the same email and did the same search you did. Brought me here as well! Thanks for this post!

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  4. thank you for posting info, another scam from STEVE HOWELL they did'nt get me, thanks to my wife.

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  5. I'm so glad that this information is proving to be of value! Good on ya for recognizing enough to start searching for answers.

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  6. Below is my response to the collinsmike100@gmail.com CL purchase request. I have also included his second inquiry asking me to provide information. Thought readers would like this. Hope I didn't screw myself in some way.



    TO COLLINSMIKE100@GMAIL.COM

    Let's make this easier.

    You give me your:
    1.....Full name to write on a shipping label.
    2.....Full Physical address for a shipping label
    3.....City, State and Zip Code
    4.....Home & Cell Phone to contact you

    Once I have this information, I will generate a full item dollar total plus shipping costs. You are going to pay for the shipping. You can then have your Bank Certified Check created and ready.

    I will then send the item to you. You can pay for the item with your Bank Certified Check upon receipt of the item.

    I can arrange to have it shipped to you wherever you are in the world on a specific day within a specific hour and perhaps within a specified 1/2 hour period if you wish. Shipping costs are usually more for that service. I hope that is OK.

    This way, when your Ceritified Bank Check is deemed fraudulent, you can work that out with Fed Ex or UPS and I don't have to deal with the headache of chasing you.



    God Bless America and Beaureauck Eaubeauma

    Gene Q

    From: Collins Mike
    To: Geneq <@yahoo.com>
    Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 10:07 AM
    Subject: Re: 1994 Brickyard 400 Jacket-42 Petty - $200 (, IN)


    Thanks for your response to my email.I'm ok with the price. I would
    like to send payment asap. Please let me know if a certified Bank
    check is ok. After my check clears my shipper will come and pick it up
    at your location. I would have loved to come and take a look but I
    can't.My shipper will though. I'll want you to know that i will be
    paying via Bank Certified Check .I will like you to provide me with
    the following information to facilitate the mailing of the check to
    you below.

    1.....Full name to write on the check
    2.....Full Physical address to post the check
    3.....City, State and Zip Code
    4.....Home & Cell Phone to contact you

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  7. Thanks I just heard from this person too

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  8. We haven't been one to fall for this....but we are the business that they are sending the checks to you from. Over the last two days we have had close to 10 calls from people all across the US, SC, NC, Idaho, ILL, CA...saying " I got this check from your company and I just wanted to make sure it was legit", so something about it is ringing people's internal "this isn't right bell" We found that somehow our 2nd business account that we only use for "incoming" transactions (I literally have no checks for this account) was used. We also are Inc. and do business as a dba, so it was interesting to ask people what name was on the check. Our checks do have the DBA's name, but it's below our INC. name. Then we asked who signed the checks, signatures were of people that we had never heard of. As soon as I had the first call I called our bank and our account was flagged. But since then several have tried to cash these checks. No idea how many are floating around, but they seem to be in the amounts of between 2000-3000. I have since emptied the account, the bank called and said one bank actually cashed one, but the bad will be on the bank that did that, not ours, since our bank had red flagged it, and already turned it over to the bank crime investigators. We called the local police, but something to know is that we can't file charges about this. Each of you that is getting one of these checks, YOU ARE the ones that need to take it to your police department and file a report about it. Because it's happening all over the US, then after the police have these checks they can turn it over to the FBI for investigating. So, please don't just ignore that this happen and be happy with yourself that you didn't get scammed, take the extra time and take it to your police and help those of us that are the "money" end of it. As a small business owner I would give you all that report it a big applause for helping stop these people. Because of our account only being one that customer use for wiring in money, I would think our account number was stolen by someone that works for the accounting department of one of our customers. We deal mostly with State, county and city customers, but we also deal worldwide, so it could be someone in Mexico or Cuba for all I know but this account number being used wasn't ever printed on checks for vendors, it was simply a number for people sending us wire payments. So, that's scary. The people you are supposed to trust in your business are the ones collecting account numbers and using them illegally, or selling them to someone illegally. We have one person that send us the names Steve Howell with the gmail address and they were supposed to wire the "excess" money to Linda Barr in Indiana. So, if you see either of those names. It's a scam.

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    1. Kelly, Thanks so much for the insight that you have provided from another side of this scam. You and your company are the primary victims here, and are getting the brunt of the impact. It's a shame that there is little that can be done from your end other than what you have already done with your bank. I'm glad to see this post is still getting some attention!

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