Saturday, January 11, 2020

Craigslist Charging for Ads - Will This End Scams? No.

Craigslist has been a haven for dreamers and scammers for years.   Will charging $5 per ad put an end to this?   Sadly, no.

Last April 15th, Craigslist instituted a new policy - ads for RVs, motorcycles, and cars "for sale by owner" would all require a $5 payment.  Craigslist had already been charging dealers for ads - although many abused this policy by putting their ads in the formerly free for-sale-by-owner section.

P.T. Barnum once said (supposedly - he said a lot of things) that you have to charge the "suckers" something or they don't value it.  If you offer something for free, people think it is worthless (because, essentially, it is) or it  is some sort of come-on.   Charge them anything - even a penny - and they take it more seriously.   Oddly enough, the Freakonomics dudes (who have their head up their ass most of the time) noted the same effect.   Robert Heinlein repeated Barnum's platitude in his novella "If this goes on - " where the protagonist is indoctrinated into a revolutionary religious movement and is surprised that admission is charged to new recruits.   Same old thing - they would not listen to what you had to say unless you charged them.

The immediate and lasting effect has been that it killed off the dreamer who listed their junk on Craigslist for far over book value.  Clem has a rusted out Mustang sitting half-submerged in the swamp in his back yard.  He sees on the television that a Mustang "just like it" sold at auction for a million dollars.  Of course, that was a rare racing model that only three were made of in that combination of options.   Oh, and it was owned by Carroll Shelby, A.J. Foyt, and Steve McQueen.  It was stripped to bare metal, meticulously restored (but not over-restored) and autographed by the previous owners.   And it appeared in a famous movie.

Undeterred, Cletus puts his pile of rust on Craigslist asking $100,000.   It is annoying as it clogs up Craigslist with a lot of crap you have to wade through to read any real listings.   In impoverished places like where we live, this means that there is nothing but junk on the site - ads by dreamers and ads from car dealers.   And a few ads from scammers, too.

The dealers pay, of course, and Craigslist looks the other way when they keyword spam.   They put a block of text, way below the listing itself, with the name of every car ever made, as well as motorcycle, RV, or whatever.   Hundreds of names, for the sole purpose of making sure their posting for a utility trailer comes up when you search on "Corvette".   Make sense, I guess.    No it doesn't - and it clogs up Craigslist even more.   Multiple ads for the same item do the same thing.   The idea is simple - SPAM the crap out of the for-sale listings so that no one will see anything but your ads.   Craigslist takes the money and says nothing - but over time, they lose readers.   Already C/L is viewed as a worthless place to buy or sell anything - this $5-per-ad thing is too little, too late.

And the scammers?   Well, I wrote about them before.   Before the $5 charge, there were scam ads all over Craigslist.   Today, there are, well, fewer perhaps, but they are still there.  If I use "Search Tempest" to search all of the Craigslists across the country, I still find bogus ads for Casita travel trailers for $2000 (for a 2017 model no less!) that are clearly scams.   On the Denver site is a listing of all the scam ads that they flagged in the last 30 days.   Clearly the scammers are figuring a way around this.

And the way around is likely stolen credit cards.   Craigslist uses credit card payments for the $5 fee.  So the scammer buys stolen credit card information (or obtains it using phishing or other techniques) and charges his bogus ads to the stolen card - much as when my debit card was stolen not to buy things but to place ads for non-existent bulldogs to entice people to wire money to Russia.

So, nice attempt, Craigslist, but it still ain't working.  It is interesting to me how Craigslist ran for so many years without charging people for ads - and still doesn't for most "for sale by owner"categories.  By offering a free classifieds section, they basically put the local newspapers out of business - classified ads used to be a big money-maker back then.   When I was a kid, when you wanted to buy or sell a car, the classifieds section of the local newspaper was the only option you really had.

Now that the classifieds are gone, well, Craigslist can charge a nominal fee for ads and get away with it.  The $5 fee gets rid of dreamers, and maybe some of the scammers.  It also makes dealer ads more prominent.  And it makes a little money for Craigslist.

And when it comes to scamming, you don't have to place an ad on Craigslist to scam people - you can scam those who do.  I recently listed a friend's scooter for sale after fixing it up.   I placed the ad and within five minutes, I get a text asking, "Is the 2002 Honda CH80 Scooter still available??!?!?!?!"  Yes, within five minutes of posting, it has already been sold.  Sorry!   The old "Is the item still available?" scam still thrives - with people sending bogus cashier's checks for more than the purchase amount - and asking for the difference to be wired overseas.

In a way, it is like evolution.   You create a barrier to scammers, and they evolve new ways to work around them.   You can never really put them out of business entirely.    It is behooves the scammed to stop being so gullible!