Craigslist is a full of great deals. It’s also full of scams.
I’ve used the online classifieds to purchase most of my electronic equipment, sell two computers, find roommates and even discover this job. It’s an amazing tool in its simplicity and generosity that allows anyone with an Internet connection to buy and sell products for free.
But its vast access opened the door to scammers too, who offer to pay sellers triple the asking price if they use Western Union, an escrow service or other money wiring methods. It usually works like this: The buyer sends the money via a Western Union wire transfer to an escrow company. However, the escrow company’s Web site is fake, usually built in the last week or so by the scammer, and the buyers never receives the goods and the criminal keeps the goods and the money.
Scammers will sometimes be as bold as to ask you for your bank account details straight up. The Internet is full of story after story of people getting swindled like this, and after reading many of them, it seems the best advice is to not respond to anyone outside of your community.
Unless you can’t resist.
Before I moved to Austin, I had to find a roommate to replace my spot in a house I rented in Columbia, Mo. I posted the ad on Craigslist. It read:
Inexpensive room for rent on east campus. $255/month + utilities. Lease is for one year. You’ll be living with two guys, both are journalism students.
Simple enough, right? Several days pass without any response, until I get a captivating e-mail from someone named Master Peter. Here it is, verbatim:
Please permit me to write you irrespective of the fact we have not met before. I got your contact through network online hence I decided to write you. I would be very interested in offering you a part time paying job in which you could earn a lot.Before I go further, I like to give a brief profile about myself.My name is Peter Master I am 56 years of age man married with 2 kids (1 lovely girl and 2 boy). Due to the nature of my work I travel lot. But my Family resides in Dublin, Ireland. I just RESIGNED my job a research scientist for ARINI (Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland but still as a freelance consultant for the institute which still gives me very much time to do my own work which is basically being a freelance researcher who could be employed by research institutes to do research projects anywhere in the world and presently, I have just granted a funding to head research project in the tropical jungle tropics regions of the West Africa regions regarding are and vulnerable plant species and this be commencing very soon. research program will be funded and sponsored by my American counterparts. The only set back is that the American counterparts want to make payments for the research informs of US money orders/ cashier’s check only. And its a known fact that money in such forms cant be cashed outside the US. Getting an accountant in the states or opening an account would have been my best choice but I have a deadline meet and taking choices would COST ME TIME and a whole lot of other REQUIRMENTS, which I am not ready to deal with. There is where is need your assistant and service.
WHAT I NEED YOU FOR? At this point, I will be glad if you could work with me as my representative in the US. You will be working as my payment assistant in charge of collecting and processing the payments from the Associates.Since they will b e making the payment in Money orders / checks made payable only in the US, you will be collecting this payments, depositing them in your bank account, then sending me the debit card and account number so for me to use to access the money. And for this service, I agree to pay you 10% each percent of each amount you collect and deposit from the Associates.
Ya, OK. We’ve all seen this on CNN. It’s your textbook scam. Spelling, sporadic capitalization, miscellaneously placed question marks and most importantly, a request for my bank account details all point to this being a S?CAM? I immediately hit reply and begin typing in 72-point font a couple four-letter words followed by HAHAHAHHAA, but I stop with a smile after remembering his name.
Maybe he’s a nice guy who needs a break. Maybe he’s a professional wrestler who was laid off recently and needs a hand. Or maybe he just needs to be messed with. So I decide to see how far I can get with him.
I start out simple, mirroring his superior grasp of the English vernacular, to clarify the most important matter in this e-mail:
Good and great Dr. Master! I would be very warm to help you with your irrespective facts? To begin battle, I need to learn if your name real is really Master Peter for my COUSIN in LOUSIANA is of the name same!
Please let me know pronto cowboy!
And Goooooooooo USA!
I thought this would be the end, figuring a stupid question with a randomly placed patriotic rant topped off with a pop singer’s signature would tip the master off. But surprisingly, I got this e-mail the next day:
Yes my realy name is peter ginger master is that
okay am only try to lt you know that is why i get back
to you is that Okay
Yes! Not only is he responsive, he’s a redhead! I continue with a pounding interrogation:
Mrs Peter Ginger Master: I am very very much warm by your resonpse name. I happy to help the AIDS in Africa. My COUSIN of LOUISIANA once help Africa syndrome and he very very happy with result of help. I want to know what to do next and what advantages (you know the word?) I should do. Why should I help you? Do you help me and what about castle police? Is it legal?
It had to be over. That is still the stupidest thing I’ve ever written. There’s no way I was going to get a response to that. However, this message rolled in two days later:
You don’t have to go out of your present daily activity in order to engage in this Job (i.e. you can do this Work easily without leaving or affecting your present Job). You will work as an independent contractor right from your home /office. Your job is absolutely legal. You do not need any capital fund moneys to start (non of your personal funds is needed).
18 years or older.
Responsible, Reliable and Trustworthy Ready to work 3-4 hours per week.
Able to check and respond to emails often.Easy telephone access.
IS THIS LEGAL? Yes it is. As a matter of fact, my lawyer checked all legal provisions
to know if there is any domestic or international law against businesses or deals in this manner. And he said its allowed by all LAWS. So know that doing this work is safe and legitimate.Guess all is well understood,I would be glad if you accept my proposal. Mail me if are interested. Please reply with the details stated below.
The e-mail continued with places to type your name, address and other particulars. It also ended with “NOTE: ONLY SERIOUS AND INTERESTED APPLICANTS/WORKERS SHOULD PLEASE.” This man is cunning; he ends his e-mails with cliffhangers. This wasn’t going to be easy.
To debate my next step, I made a list of possible directions to take our discussion:
- Continue to divert his attention to AIDS in Africa until his head explodes with frustration or he solves the crisis.
- Find him on Skype and discuss heatedly the North American Free Trade Agreement — in Latin.
- Agree only to help him if he sends me a picture of himself accompanied by a handwritten, completed note that says “Do you like me? Check yes, no or maybe.”
- Force him to meet me in LOUSIANA to help find my COUSIN only to make him eat plates of raw crayfish while listening to R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” repeatedly until the sun rises.
- Play him hot and cold: Don’t respond for a month or so and then out of nowhere ask for his home address and children’s names because I’m in Dublin and desperately need his help.
After many sleepless, tear-filled nights, I decided to take step five. I couldn’t continue torturing this poor, old wrestler. He might have a brain aneurysm or develop black lung for some reason if I continue. It had to end there, so it did.
Until today. I sent my dear friend Master Ginger Peter a simple message of “Howdy stranger?” to see what type of response I would get. But all I got was a throwback message declaring his e-mail as no more. I think he’s probably trying to get his wrestling career off life support, or chilling in jail with other scammers like him.
So fellow Craigslisters, be careful out there. Deal only with people you can meet in person. Never mess with Western Union, MoneyGram or escrow services, and never give out your bank account details. If you do, you might end up Dublin demanding your money back.
Note: This post is included in the 94th edition of the Carnival of Money Stories hosted by the Sun’s Financial Diary. The carnival’s theme is the Chinese New Year. Let’s hope 2009 brings us all a lot of luck.
See related: Nigeria and Ghana’s dangerous love of credit cards, Credit card phishing scam: How it works, how to prevent itCredit card scam: credit card shaving,