One sunny (let’s assume) day last October, I received this email in response to one of my Craigslist postings:
I received your initial email stating that your sofa is still available for sale. I would like to know the lowest price you would go for it. I would have been happy to travel down for the payment and pick-up myself, but I just relocated due to an urgent project. However, my daughter can easily send a Money Order to you on my behalf and you will receive payment within 3 business days. She has also made arrangements with a truck driver who will come for the pick up of the sofa at your address or any public address of your choice. I’ll appreciate it if you consider it sold to us via this means.
We will only come for pick up after you have received the Money Order and they have been duly processed at your Bank. I would like to know how your name should appear on the Money Order and what valid residential or office address should we mail it to. We are ready to make payment as soon as we get your mailing details. Thanks for selling it to us via this medium.
Although at first glance this looks slightly believable, there were your typical red flags – ones Craigslist warns you about at the bottom of every email they forward you: out of country buyer, money order, and a request for my full name and valid address. Oh yeah – I also received the same email three times in one day from three different email addresses, but all were signed “Mr David” [sic]. Classic Craigslist spam. This was my response:
Dear Sir,Unfortunately, I already shipped the sofa off to a Russian sheik who needed it to exchange in ransom for his daughter who was kidnapped by Norwegian pirates. It’s a pity because I would gladly have accepted the meager sum of $16,077.89 USD from you and saved myself the trouble of learning Russian and Norwegian in order to communicate with the sheik. Ah well, such is life.
As gratifying as it was to send back a snarky reply, I knew that they were just fishing for my email address, so I made sure to send the reply from an email account I have exclusively devoted to spam. [Pat on the back, Brynne – funny and smart, #sarcasm]. I was confident in my abilities to spot the fairly transparent schemes that hit my inbox every few days or so.
Then I took a six month break from selling on Craigslist, and in that time, people apparently started attending my sister’s Villainy Academy, because Craigslist scams got A LOT SMARTER. This week I received several emails that I legitimately had a hard time discerning if they were spam/scams or not. So I thought I would put together a post with tips for avoiding common Craigslist scams!
Here we go:
In my postings, I always request that in their email response, people include a phone number and a short message that lets me know it isn’t spam. My reasoning behind this is that a phone number and a message that is relevant to the posting (rather than a simple “Do you still have it?” or “Is the item still available”?”) usually* indicates that it’s a human being responding.
I ignore one-liner emails, and if the email mentions what I’m selling as an “item”, that’s a red flag. People ask you about the dresser you have for sale. Scammers ask if “the item is in good condition”.
*In times past, asking responders to include a phone number was the best way to weed out the spam from the real emails. However, I’ve started receiving spam/scam emails WITH phone numbers:
I will like to know if this item still up for sale and what is the condition?kindly get back to me with your real email address and phone number.
Lucky mooly 323-546-5032
I just viewed your item on craigslist and i will like to make a purchase, please get back to me as soon as possible with your bottom price for the it and to be honest. Pls mail me back with your email address so that we can transact from there
Am Rhonda Deb email:firstname.lastname@example.org
phone: (662) 576-1275 text or email
let me read back from you ASAP
Hi, I hope you dont mind me asking if you are firm on the price and also get back to me if its still available.
PS: EMAIL ME THROUGH YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS AND NOT THE CRAIGSLIST
AUTOMATED LINK. email@example.com
I can see at first glance how these are incredibly easy to fall for! A few observations:
1) I’ve never received an email from a real buyer with the phrase “I will like to ____” in it.
2) Use of the word “item” in lieu of an actual mention of what I’m selling.
3) Request for my “real email address”
4) Request for my phone number – I googled both numbers that were included and found that people reported incessant sales calls from those numbers. I’m glad I didn’t respond!
Then there are the emails like this one where I have no idea – it could go either way:
Hi, do you still have this? I’m in Dallas and would love to see it. Thanks! Jennifer
Sounds friendly and maybe it’s specific enough since she included “I’m in Dallas”, but she also didn’t include a phone number, and the email only used the words “this” and “it”.
For cases like these I have my spam-only email address.
SIDENOTE: Did you know that your email account likely displays your full name to anyone you email? That’s probably fine if you are “John Smith”, but if you have a more uncommon name, people can find out disconcerting amounts of information about you just by knowing your first and last name and the city you live in.
I know this, because I have a habit of googling people who are going to be coming by my house to buy something. Hmm, Edward Van Steinhouser, eh? Lives in Richardson, is a veterinarian, graduated from Texas A&M, looks harmless/nice from his Google+ profile pictures… (Disclaimer: I invented this supposed Edward Van Steinhouser, so if that’s your name and you arrived at this page by googling yourself, don’t worry – I’m not talking about you!)
Anyway, if I could find out that much information about Edward Van Steinhouser, I realized that anyone could find out a lot of information about me! So I took two steps: 1) my primary Craigslist email has just my first name and last initial (not really an option in gmail, but I simply wrote in that my last name was “D”), and 2) my spam only email address has a pseudonym. /SIDE NOTE.
SOOO, when I receive an email like the one from “Jennifer” above and I’m like 80% sure it’s fishing, but 20% really want to sell my “item”, I’ll send back a reply from my pseudonym address (and never include a phone number). Then, worst case scenario, my spam account gets spammed… Big deal – that’s it’s purpose. Best case, Jennifer responds and is totally a real person and she gives me lots of money for my fabulous furniture and we become best buddies or something. AND I don’t receive copious amounts of spam from hot girls who want to hook up with me…
I wish I had presented these tips in a more concise and tidy little package. I’m kind of a rambler. Here’s a bullet point version:
- Ask for phone numbers from people responding to your posting
- But realize that scammers have phone numbers too
- Real people rarely talk about “items”
- No money orders
- No out of country buyers
- Be choosy about using your full name
- Have a dedicated Craigslist email, and even a dedicated spam email as well
But seriously – don’t let you scare this off from selling your stuff on Craigslist! Just be forewarned: you’ll probably get a lot of spam; it’s just the age we live in. Hopefully this long novel will help you spot it more easily though!
What do you think? Any tips to ad? Any stories of Craigslist cons? Anyone else fallen for one of these emails?