Sunday, January 4, 2015

"Is the Item Still Available?" - Craigslist Scams

When you list something for sale on Craigslist, you will get hit by scammers.

I recently received an e-mail from a reader regarding Craigslist scams, and I realized I never did a stand-alone posting about the "Is the item still available?" or "Is the vehicle still available?" responses you will receive.

The scam works like this.   You post an item for sale on Craigslist.  It could be a sofa or a car or a boat or a motorcycle.   Usually, you get this response with vehicles.

A week or two goes by and you get this weird response by e-mail saying only, "Is the vehicle still available?" or if it is not a vehicle, "Is the item still available?"

Or, you may see the title of the item in the text.  So if you are selling "Grandma's Antique Hope Chest" you will get a weirdly worded e-mail that says, "Is the Grandma's Antique Hope Chest still available?"

What are these messages about and why are they scams?

Well to begin with, they are obvious bots.  They are automated responses that take the title of the item, or just the word "item" or "vehicle" and tie it with the phrase "Is....still available?"    This is not an actual person trying to buy your item.

Why do they wait 2-4 weeks to e-mail you?   Well, they are looking for desperate people - who have had an item for sale (perhaps overpriced) that want to get rid of it - and thus are more likely to respond to a scam.   If your item is overpriced, you are not thinking realistically, hence you are fodder for scammers.

If you respond to these e-mails, a number of things may happen:

1.  Nothing.   They simply harvested your e-mail address and sold it to a SPAM outfit.

2.  You get a poorly worded response, asking if the "vehicle is still available?" (they already asked that) or asking you to send pictures etc.

3.  If you respond to the e-mail in #2, they then make a pitch to send you a cashier's check - and provide a long-winded story about wanting to buy "the vehicle" and another long-winded story as to why the cashier's check is for more than the amount you are asking and then asking you to wire money via Western Union to a 3rd party.

This is a classic scam on Craigslist.   As I noted before, never get involved doing anything with Western Union as it is always a scam.   Never, ever, ever wire money to strangers via Western Union.   And even friends - confirm that it really is your friend requesting money.   In reality, only poor people use Western Union, so don't be a poor person and just stop using it.   It would be a good thing if they went out of business, as they are silent partners in so many scams these days - raking in fees and doing little to police their own system.

How can you spot these scams?  It isn't hard to do, if you are astute.  To begin with, since most originate overseas - usually in former British colonies in Africa - they use British English.  So they say "colour" instead of "color" and "break" instead of "vacation" and other weird odd phrasings.

The second tipoff is paying your asking price without any haggling.   You send a couple of photos and they say, "it is just what we are looking for and the price seems reasonable!"   No one really thinks this way, and no one is going to buy a car (or boat, or whatever) sight unseen, from a foreign country, without haggling on the price.

The third tipoff is that they want to ship something overseas.    Granted, there are some folks who do ship cars overseas and make money.   Recently, a plumber in Texas was chagrined to discover that ISIS was using his old plumbing truck as a missile launch platform - with his phone number still painted on the side!   So vehicles do get around, to be sure.   But these are usually exported by shippers, not bought through Craigslist.  And the people buying them, come over here and inspect them before buying.

But the main tip-off is the intro.   This whole "Is the item still available?" nonsense, which clearly is just an initial level robot, fishing for suckers.

How can you avoid these scams?   Don't respond to e-mails, but use your VOICE PHONE instead.  Put right in the ad that if a person is interested in the item, to CALL you on your VOICE phone.   A robot that is scanning your ad will, of course, ignore this, and send you an e-mail, which you now know is fraudulent.

Most people on Craigslist are doing this these days - the sheer volume of 'bot e-mails has made it necessary.   If you try to sell a toothpick on Craigslist, you will get a response, "Is the item still available?" after a week or two.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid these scams is to employ your skepticism.   If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.   And if you are willing to believe that some foreigner is going to pay you asking price for your clapped-out car, after it has sat unsold for weeks, and wants to buy it sight unseen, then you are not engaging your native skepticism.

See also:  Anatomy of a Craigslist Scam