(Note from Scott: if this post helped you from being caught in a scam, please “like” it by hitting the button – I just added it because this post is getting so much traffic. And if you want to make a decent part-time income using Craigslist, check this out.)
As I have mentioned in previous posts, the world is full of scammers who would love to take your money. The internet is teeming with them, so you have to be very careful. One of the internet sites that scammers love to use is Craigslist. I ran into one recently.
I was shopping around for an economical car for my daughter. Craigslist is the obvious place to check, since the classified ads are free and there are hundreds of new listings created each day. I saw this ad:
A few things caught my attention about this ad:
1. The text – where the description usually goes – only had one word: “driver”. That didn’t make sense, so it is a good indication that a computer program is creating these types of listings, and just inserting random text so that the Craigslist computers don’t see a lot of duplicate content when multiple ads are created.
2. The photo – it’s just a vague picture, which could have been taken from anywhere on the internet and used in this ad.
3. The email address – in the ad, the email address was not actual text. It was an image – a picture of text. Again, this is so Craigslist is not able to read the email address.
4. The price – $1350 is a pretty good price for this car, but not so outrageously low that it would immediately raise suspicion.
I knew this was some type of scam, so naturally I played along.
I sent the “seller” an email saying that I was very interested in the car. This is the response I received from “firstname.lastname@example.org”:
I`m Maj. Briana Williams. You have to know that the 2000 Honda Accord EX 4 Cyl Automatic I am selling is 100% working and great looking, no flaws or dents, no scratches or any kind of damage. The title is clear. It has 119,857 miles. The VIN# is 1HGCG6673YA107020 This vehicle engine runs very, very smooth. No electrical problems on this beauty. This detailed vehicle makes the exterior looks like it just came off the assembly line.
Power Tilt/Sliding Sunroof Power Passenger Mirror Power Driver Mirror Intermittent Wipers Adjustable Steering Wheel Front Reading Lamps Driver Illuminated Vanity Mirror Passenger Illuminated Visor Mirror Passenger Vanity Mirror Power Windows Variable Speed Intermittent Wipers
Here are the pics of the car:
As I know that my current situation is pretty special I want the deal closed only through eBay’s Buyer Protection Program in order for you to be 100% protected. You will make the payment to eBay and they will hold the money until you receive the car. ONLY AFTER you receive the car and inspect it (for 10 days) eBay will release the payment to me; in this way we are both protected. Anyway i am sure that if you won`t be satisfied with the car i will surely find another buyer in your area and there will be no need for you to ship the car back.
I am located in London,United Kingdom and I was sent here to improve the military relationships between USA and United Kingdom. One months ago, my husband moved here with me and brought the car with him, but now we have to sell it back in the United States because we can’t register it here; it has US specs and everything, and registering it here in Europe will take for ever. My final price on it is US 1,350 $. If you will take it for this price, I am willing to handle the shipping. It will be shipped from here by plane with US Air Military Cargo so it will not cost me anything. You will get it to the nearest airport in your area and then it will be trucked forward to your place. You will receive the car in about 3 days. Please get back to me asap if you decide to buy, and include in your e-mail your full name and address where you want it shipped so I can start the deal with eBay. You will receive all the transaction payment and shipping details from them.
Maj, USAF1 SOMOS/MXOOA Maintenance Analysis DSN 579-1794 Comm 884-1794
She even sent along a picture of herself, to add to her credibility:
Some observations about that email:
1. Of course the car has no problems – that makes it an even better deal. The average car buyer will start to get excited that he is about to get a great bargain.
2. The scammer seems to think that it is important to list the fact that the car has intermittent wipers, and illuminated vanity mirrors. This person is probably using an internet cafe in a country where nice cars like this Honda are rare, and is not familiar with these “options”.
3. Take a look at the link that goes to the Photobucket account (Photobucket is a free image hosting service). At the time of this writing, that set of pictures has been viewed over 2100 times. That is a pretty good indication that this person is posting lots of ads on Craigslist, and lots of people are inquiring about this car (and probably other cars).
4. As expected, the car being offered is not in the US. The story may change with different scammers, but the one fact that doesn’t change is that the car is not local to the buyer for inspection. That is why, at the top of each set of car classified listings, Craigslist has this in bold print:
Anyway, I continued to play along and told her that I was interested in proceeding with the transaction. She sent me these instructions:
Here is how it works:
1. First of all I will need the following details from you: full name, shipping address and telephone number.
2. After I will receive the details from you, I will forward them to eBay.
3. After they will process your info, they will send us both invoices (email forms).The price for the car is $1,350 USD. This price includes all the shipping taxes and fees.
4. After you will make the payment in an eBay trust fund account and confirm it to them they will contact me and I will ship the car to you. After you receive the car you will have 10 days to test, verify and do whatever you need to the car. If you will buy, then I will receive the payment details from eBay so that I can pick up the money.
5. If the car is not as I told you or have some problems, or is not as described, they will refund you 100%. There is no risk in this deal. I don’t touch your money until you receive and inspect the car. The transaction is simple so everything should go as planed. If the car is not as advertised and decide not to keep it eBay will refund you the money, no questions asked, and shipping back the car will be my concern. I think this is more than fair for the both of us. Please take into consideration that I will get paid only after you receive the car and make sure everything is as agreed.
6. From the moment the payment is secured by eBay the shipping process will begin and it will arrive at your address in about 3 max. 4 business days. You will also receive all the documents including the titles and a Bill of Sale. The cargo is insured so if the car is damaged during the shipping you will also be refunded.
Another interesting factor is that this car is not even listed on eBay. Why would eBay get involved at all, when there is no listing to sell the car? The scammer doesn’t even know if I have an eBay account. But, everyone knows the name “eBay” so it adds to the trust factor. So I gave her a phony address and contact information. Within 24 hours, I received an email that was designed to look like it came from eBay. The images were a little sloppy, but not bad:
At the same time, I got a separate email, also supposedly from eBay, with these instructions:
!!! TO COMPLETE THE PAYMENT, You must go with cash in hand and your ID to the Western Union agent closest to you and fill in a simple ” Person-to-Person ” form with your personal information and the details of the eBay Transaction Agent assigned for your transaction which you have below.
That is always the final tipoff – you have to pay through Western Union. As you probably know, once you hand cash to the Western Union agent, you can kiss that money good-bye. You have no recourse to get it back. Western Union is a scammer’s best friend.
So here ends another story where the scammer tried to steal, but got nothing except for some unwanted publicity.
UPDATE: the scammer got the pictures from this actual car ad