When the 2003 award-winning documentary about Craigslist; “24 hours on craigslist” was published on YouTube in 2012, it gave an engaging glimpse of the circus of sellers and buyers that comprises the free phenomenon that is Craigslist. Though the biggest community bulletin board in the world started in San Francisco, it rapidly expanded to cities around the world.
As incredible as selling and buying on the service can be, it also has potential for being swept up in incredible scams. The same amazing collective of intelligent to mundane advertisements has inspired equally brilliant to common attempts at taking advantage of unsuspecting victims. It’s not surprising, though certainly disappointing, to learn that new scams are popping up on the service all the time, and that successful scams which have existed for years continue to find new victims.
Craigslist does a remarkable job of keeping thousands of daily transactions safe. The company offers detailed information about keeping its customers free from con artists. Lists of does and don’ts when it comes to avoiding scams is clearly posted on its website. The company has a Security Researcher Appreciation page listing those who keep Craigslist safer by finding and responsibly disclosing security issues. Craigslist helps its customers buy and sell while avoiding scams and fraud by maintaining its number One rule: “deal locally”. A look at two diverse communities from each coast of the United States shows how pervasive and long-running these scams really are. Medford, Oregon and Medford, Massachusetts have both experienced their share of typical and innovative Craigslist cons.
1. The Dial 90 Scam
Katie Whitman is no newcomer to Craigslist scams. The Medford, Oregon resident posted a Craigslist ad for college textbooks in February 2018. What was unusual was what happened next. She posted her ad close around 1:45 AM and a response came in quickly-much too quickly, and within minutes, at 2 AM. She thought it was strange right away. The number wasn’t local, the response was too rapid, and it was the middle of the night. She got 11 calls more after the first one at 2 AM and until 2:17 AM. Whitman knew to block the number, but three more calls came in with voicemails. The voicemail was an automated voice with the message, “Sorry. I didn’t hear that. Dial 90 to connect with me.” Craigslist’s website notes that most scam attempts are email or texts from someone not local to your area and encourages Craigslist users to deal face to face and locally. This is the one rule which the company declares can help users to avoid 99% of attempts by scammers.
2. The Rental Home Scam
The Pulitzer Prize winning Medford, Oregon Mail Tribune posted an article warning about a home rental scam in 2015. The scammer used photos and descriptions of real estate listings to create bogus listings on Craigslist offering the properties as rentals for far less than the going rates. The scammer asked potential renters to wire money for a rental deposit in exchange for receiving the keys. The scammer encouraged victims to cooperate with the arrangement by telling them that a past tenant refused to send payment after settling into the house, so payment first-keys second was the new rule for doing business. The Medford police noted that scammers typically promised to send the promised key using FedEx, but only after the funds were wired first. Police advised that the scam wasn’t new but had become more widespread than in the past.
3. The Mother and Son Duo Apartment Scam
It’s been just seven years since Nicholas and Dorothy Ingemi posed as landlords to con renters out of thousands of dollars for apartments they didn’t own. Nicholas was just 21 years old at the time when he joined his mother, Dorothy, in the scam. The two advertised an apartment for rent on Craigslist and collected deposits from their victims. The two showed the apartment to prospective tenants, even giving a key to one. The mother and son had been staying in the apartment because they were homeless, and the owner was kind to them. The two took deposits of varying amounts, which totaled nearly $4,000. They were arrested and charged with three different counts of felony larceny.
4. The Easy Yard Sale Con
A Boston BBB contributor to the Medford Patch, warned local readers about this Craigslist Medford scam, which was termed “elaborate”. It’s a con which focuses on large ticket items like boats or used cars. The seller posts an ad for the item which is invariably lower than other ads. The buyer emails the seller. When the seller replies, the buyer is told that the item is available but must be purchased through a company named “Easy Yard Sale” or some similar name. The seller claims that the item has been inherited due to a recent death in the family. The item is apparently wonderful, but the seller wants to sell the estate quickly and is using this service to handle everything. A quick Internet search shows that the company has a website. Convinced that the company really exists, the buyer proceeds with the seller’s instructions. These include wiring the purchase price to the company so that the buyer will receive the item and all the paperwork required to transfer the property is legally completed. As soon as the money is paid, the buyer never receives the item, never hears from the seller again, and tracking the phony company becomes a nightmare.
5. The Fake Ticket Scam
It’s one of the most common scams on Craigslist and seen from coast to coast. Big events such as concerts and sports tournaments tend to draw the most fans looking for better deals on high-priced tickets. That’s where the trouble begins. Scammers have become so good at making fake tickets for these events that it’s difficult to tell the difference between the fake ones and the real deal. Fans eager to attend the events might only have contact with phony information. The scammer will offer cheap tickets but demand payment before deliver. As soon as those tickets are paid for, the scammer will cancel real tickets leaving the buyer with nothing. Some fans will end up with tickets cleverly designed with watermarks and holograms which look just like the real ones-but are completely fake. Craigslist’s advice is to deal only with local sellers you can meet in person, never share your financial information with anyone, and never send money via Western Union.
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Written by Garrett Parker
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