Trolling on Craigslist, A New 419 Internet Scam

Ideas and Issues

craigslistNew Orleans       In many cities Craigslist is the modern go-to site for buying and selling, having decimated its competition years ago in what’s left of the print industry. It’s a clunky site with nothing fancy to it, but, hey, it’s free, and it’s popular, and stuff moves, so many of us are all over it whenever we have to buy or sell, you know, stuff. Which is not to say that Craigslist hasn’t had its problems as an open forum in the modern world. There’s all of this nastiness about predators. There are the shrewd operators that took prostitution off the streets and onto the web until Craig had to finally police some of that stuff. The point is that Craigslist is a wonderful tool, but so is a hammer and that doesn’t mean you can’t still smash your fingers if you’re not careful.

All of which brings me to internet scams.

There are of course the spam scams powered by bots in Russia and around the world that offer a bit of everything, plus $100 million euros, if you are willing to double click your way to trouble. If they have an attachment, you might as well just about throw your computer away. Most of us know to be careful about this stuff, and there are programs that weed out some of this.

Then there are the 419 scams from Nigeria, referring to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code forbidding mail fraud. A couple of years ago there were very interesting adaptations to the standard inheritance scams. You got an urgent email from an email that looked like it was from a friend. They were desperate and trying to get back home, usually from some foreign country, but their wallet or purse had been stolen, and they needed you to wire money to them to save the day. I can remember my first time, calling a friend in Helena, Montana at 6am to see if they were alive and well. Those were great, but they always broke down when you emailed back for a hotel name so you could call them directly, got the runaround, and ended up being asked to send a grand or so to a Western Union in London or somewhere far from anywhere.

There’s a new twist which seems more “bot” than person, which is disappointing, given how interactive the robbed-in-a-strange-land scam worked. Several of my friends have tried to offer their rooms during the Jazz Fest or rent the other side of their double or whatever, and are getting these great emails almost immediately when they post to Craigslist. It’s almost invariably a young woman who is moving to the city from England (what is it about England and these scams, eh?) and wants to rent for a year for top dollar, seemingly solving all problems the ad placer might have. Reading a couple of these, the money always looks great. I was suspicious because the young woman always looks too “good” in a stereotypical way to be true. You know, devout Christian, no smoking, no drugs, no drinking, clean freak. I mean really, how many of them are left? And, why are leaving London? That and the grammar is a little off with some misspellings, making me think more machine than scam artist here. Once they get a response – and that’s your mistake here – then there’s not much engagement, but a couple of days later there’s this problem wiring you the money, and they have a complicated ask where you would make an extra hundred for writing them back to Western Union the excess amount they tried to send you. Huh?

Well, you get it now. They pick up your listings by trolling on Craigslist. They want you to provide your name and address, which is sketchy. They send you a picture and try to get the same back from you, I guess so that they can pretend to be you to someone else next time around.

I read today that the judge wouldn’t release the names of the people scammed by the Wolf of Wall Street, the true character behind the Leonardo de Caprio movie. Turns out according to AARP and others that scammers like to buy lists of suckers wherever they can find them, because once burned is not necessarily twice learned.

Just saying. We all use Craigslist and no reason not to do so, but there’s mischief around some of these corners. Caveat emptor!