We’ve been scammed!
Thank goodness we did not send any money. It started innocently enough: we listed our item on Craigslist at a starting price of $500. I expected to snag a few interested buyers before zeroing in on the one who would play the negotiation dance to a price we could both agree on. There was one interested buyer the first day, but nothing materialized. And then she came along: Mary Hudson.
My first impression was that the name was very platonic and American-sounding…almost contrived. Her first email to me was very cordial and normal. In good textbook grammar and English she asked if the item was still available. When I responded that it was, several hours later she wrote again to say she wanted to know its condition. Once I responded, the trouble began. Her next email to me was not the Mary I had grown to love; it was blemished with a few small but distinct grammatical errors and smelled of secondhand English (this would have been fine, except that her first email was impeccable—by her English becoming worse and worse, it indicated that she had used a form email in our beginning discussions to try to appear to be someone who she is not). Perhaps it was written in an excited slurry of typing? Second red flag: why was a shipping company involved? Turns out Mary lives in New Hampshire.
Response Email, 6/14/2011: “Thank you very much for the response. I will be happy to buy it. Note that you will not be responsible for shipping and handling. My shipping company will come to your location for pick up. Kindly provide me your name and full address so i can forward it to the shipping company to calculate the cost of pick up for me. Do get back to me as soon as possible.”
Mary was anxious to get this transaction going, but before continuing with this courtship I wanted to discuss my apprehensions with Paul. We decided that we would play along awhile longer because it could still be a real deal at this point. We gave her our address, as this is a necessity for the shipping company but also for anyone completing this item as they had to come and pick it up from us. However, I did not give her my last name. I also gave her the stipulation that she needed to pay in full, having cleared the bank, before her shipping company was allowed on our property. Her grammar and English continued to worsen from there.
These terms were satisfactory to her and she reassured me that she would pay through PayPal because it is fast and secure. Paul and I still wanted to entertain this further, but we both felt something was not right so we took precautions by setting up a brand new PayPal account just for our Mary. We figured we would never hear from her again because she would hack the account and figure out that our credit cards and bank account were not connected with it. However, the scam continued in a different way.
The next email we received was from ®firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. The email stated that we had received a PayPal payment of “$900:00 USD” from Mary Hudson, and that a temporary hold had been placed on the transaction in order to protect both buyer and seller from online fraud (ha!). The email went on to explain that this was a new PayPal Payment policy. We were advised to go to the nearest Western Union Office and send $400 USD (the cost of the buyer’s shipper’s pick up fees) to the Transport Agent (a man in Maryland). PayPal would release the funds to our account once they received a scanned copy of the Western Union receipt.
Seriously—I could not make this up if I tried.
Our next email came from “Shipping Agent”, who “specialize in looking after your belongings by securely packing them with our unique export packing system, offering full marine insurance which is underwritten by Royal & Sun Alliance.” Apparently they had successfully calculated the shipping costs: lo and behold, they came out to $400 USD. All we need to do is send that money to that man in Maryland, and they would pick up the unit. We also received a plea from “the president of PayPal” to send this money (he referred to himself in the email as Mr. Richard Wright and signed the email as Scott Thompson). After several hours of us not sending this money, we got one more email from Mary Hudson.
Email from Mary, 6/15/2011: “Hey,what is going on over there i have made payment for the item and i haven’t hear anything back from you concerning the Western Union Money Transfer Please i will like to know what is going on because i am taking the step to contact the Authorities for there investigation on this transaction because i am getting worried,and i hope i have not gotten scam by you i will not accept this and PayPal and the Authority will be aware of this if you fail to get back to me now to know what is going on,i will urge you to go and made the transfer now so the transaction can be completed.waiting for your urgent reply..”
Too bad for you Mary. It seems the tables have turned and we are turning you into the authorities. The next day, we reported “Mary” to the PayPal Fraud Department.
Ways to Avoid Fraud on Craigslist:
My naiveté that all people are good coupled with our eagerness to sell this item led me to give out more information than I should have. Fortunately, we had enough sense to put safeguards into place, as well as to check our PayPal account for ourselves to verify what was going on. Did these people honestly think I would send them $400 by Western Union?
There were several clues that added to my initial gut instinct about this transaction.
Clue #1: She did not formally capitalize her name
Clue #2: After I was interested in her as a buyer, she responded almost instantaneously; I type incredibly fast but there is no way I could have responded that quickly without using a form email
Clue #3: She stated twice that she would use PayPal because it is ‘a secure payment system’ (almost an admission of guilt)
Clue #4: Her English and grammar worsened with each email she sent (a sign that she was not who she said she was, and that she had been using form emails in the beginning correspondence)
Clue #5: She involved a shipping company.
Clue #6: She did not try to negotiate the price and was happy to pay shipping and handling fees on a very heavy item.
Clue #7: Mention of Western Union and money transfer. Period.
Clue #8: She sent more money than we asked for. Who would do that?
Craigslist does not appear to have a fraud department. However, they do offer tips on how to avoid scams on their website, which I’ve summarized below:
- Only deal with people locally (not in New Hampshire)
- Never wire funds
- Fake cashier checks and Moneygrams are common and if they are discovered weeks later, you will still be held accountable by your bank
- You will not see an email from a Craigslist person so if you do, it is an impersonation
- Never give out financial information
- No transactions are guaranteed (if someone guarantees a transaction, take it as a red flag)
- Avoid transactions that involve shipping and escrow services
- Do not purchase or rent things sight unseen
- Do not submit to credit checks or background checks
Have you ever been a victim of a scam? What happened? Did you lose anything?
Editor’s Pick in The Yakezie Carnival, Tour de France edition.