We Were Scammed on Craigslist: How to Protect Yourself – Frugal Confessions

We Were Scammed on Craigslist: How to Protect Yourself

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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 ®service@intl.paypal.com and fundsconfirmedonline@officemail.net. 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.

34 comments… add one

  • Very interesting. I haven’t sold anything using Craigslist yet but am thinking about it. I have a heavy item in the garage to get rid of so it is useful to know that avoiding a shipping company is a recommendation. Sounds like cash in hand is the way to go.

  • Sandra

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m glad you weren’t out any cash, just time.

  • Sara

    My husband fell victim to an ebay scam. For a while we had a sailboat dream. We were going to buy a sailboat and live on it and sail around and stuff. We researched floor plans and looked at all kinds of boats for sale. He bid on a sailboat and was outbid. A few days later he received a “second chance” email. He was so excited that he didn’t think logically and sent $1100 to England. Western Union. Well, we don’t have a boat, and that was many years ago.

    We are in the process of buying a house, though! Yay us! I will be utilizing a lot of the things I’ve gleaned from your blog when we move.

    • Oh my goodness–I am so sorry to hear that! Thank you for sharing this so that others can not fall victim.

      Also, fantastic on your home! I am glad to hear that you are finding my blog useful:)

      • Rebecca Newberry

        The dates were different (01-24-2014)—(01-27-2014) the name was the same these people were fast they had that fake check at my door in three days.the only thing that saved me is it was an out of state check and my bank put a 10 day hold on it. I didn’t have the money to send to these scammers or I would have because I really wanted to have my truck (wrapped) please read the message posted on line and don’t send your money when ever it says to do it fast!!! Rely on your bank these scammers out of business

  • I try not to hate too many things in life but scammers are one of the few I despise. Every time I post an ad on craigslist I get at least one scam email back. Luckily I haven’t lost any money yet. And you’re exactly right – if you start a dialogue with a scammer most of the time the English will get worse and worse.

    • I wanted to send “Mary” an email back telling her/him that they are very mean, but my husband advised against it. But scammers are mean!

      • They ARE mean. I hope every scammer gets scammed themselves so they get a taste of their own poison. -Sydney

  • I hadn’t heard about this particular scam, but it’s scary to think there are so many unscrupulous people out there…..and i’m sure many people are not as smart as you were about this so i bet there are quite a few people that actually fall for this.

  • Sorry to hear about your negative experience. I have actually never bought anything from Craig’s list before but I have considered it. Thanks for the heads up.

    • I still will purchase and sell on Craigslist because it is a great resource and I’ve had many great experiences with it. Now I just know to keep my eyes out and listen to my gut:).

  • This is all very interesting. Someone I found via website advice was willing to perform a service to my blog. They wanted my PayPal account information before performing the service. I did nothing as I was worried about giving out PayPal info. What do you think?

    • Hi Maggie! I am so glad you commented because I keep trying to comment on your blog but it does not allow me to (and I wanted to contact you and let you know this).

      As for your experience, I think it was smart because you would be paying this person money, not the other way around. So why would this person need your paypal account info? Good job!

  • Thanks! I was wondering if I had just been too paranoid. I guess not.

    I don’t know why Blogger won’t let you comment. Other people have been able to leave a comment as well as linking to their blogs with it. I wonder how many others have had this problem. Very discouraging.

    • FruGal

      Let me try to comment on your site from my home computer (the one I am now); I think I have only been trying at work. I’ll email you if it doesn’t work.

  • That might work. Someone else had trouble on their work computer & it worked from their home computer. Hope it works! Thanks!

    • Darn…I just tried to post a comment on your 4th of July tee-shirt post. What happens (and this is what happens at work also) is I put in my name/URl, then click “post comment”, and a red dot shows up underneath the comment. When I scroll up, there are still 0 comments on the post/mine doesn’t show up.

      Sorry you are having trouble with this! You might want to post it on the Yakezie forums and ask for help from someone. They might know what is going on.

  • Wow! It really upsets me how intricate this scam artist deals are becoming these days! The CCD camera scam I fell for several years ago involved payment using Western Union. Apparently, that is the preferred form of payment for scammers, probably because there is no way to get the money back.

  • Alasia

    I recently was scammed on craigslist for about $800.0 for a babysitting offer. My bank told me the check had cleared when it hadn’t,and now we are held responsible for the check. Watch out!

  • HT

    Thank you for your post and warning about Mary. I posted furniture for sale last night and by this morning had VERBATIM the same messages you describe above from MARY. Only exception is the first message came from :kevinkelly454@gmail.com and then it was followed by the one from Mary at Mary Rose Wright roseallyson023@gmail.com. (i’m including the email addresses so that someone else may find them if they do the search that I did)

    Had it not been for the “spidey senses tingling” and finding your post, I may have gone down the same path you did. I hope others find this as well. The scam must be working, or they wouldn’t still be doing it.

    • FruGal

      Hello HT,

      I am so glad to hear that you found my post, and that you listened to your gut.

  • IW

    Well, over a year later this scam is still alive! I posted an ad to craigslist, furniture, $500. Thanks, HT, for posting the email addys, as that’s how I found this article. My first email came from Stephen McIntyre kevinkelly626@gmail.com asking “for how long have you been using it?” Second from Mary Rose Wright roseallyson023@gmail.com with the verbatim message as above. As HT said, my spidey sense was tingling! Thanks, Amanda, for posting this article!

  • Wow IW! I am happy you found this article, and that you went with your spidey sense:).

    Have a wonderful holiday season, and I hope to see you back!
    Amanda L Grossman recently posted..Sometimes it’s Not about Money: My Splurge on an Afternoon at Natural Hot Springs

  • Jacquie

    OK, thank you very much HT and IW, because this scam continues. I knew something was up when they asked for my personal information. However, I had no idea that I was being scammed until I saw your experiences. I am glad I saw your notes, otherwise, I may have fallen prey. The new addresses are:

    “smith Rose”
    “Emmanuela Wilson”

    Thanks again for the head up. I will be reporting these to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, if it does any good:



    • FruGal

      I am sorry you were mixed up with this scam! Thank you for sharing your experience to help others.

  • Jacquie

    Sorry, here are the predatory email addresses:

    from “smith Rose” email given kevinkelly454@gmail.com
    from “Emmanuela Wilson” email given emmanueljohny528@gmail.com

  • Robert

    I just had the same exact thing happen to me. Info has been sent to fraud dept as well.

  • Thanks for sharing! It just happened to me yesterday!
    I was selling a dining set for $700. And that same night a receive an e-mail from Nancy Michelle, claiming she was a flight attendant at AA, wanting to buy my furniture right away, sending a mover to pick up the item the next day. I gave my Paypal email and of course no payment came; instead, hours later I received a fake “you’ve got cash” email from a fake Paypal email, along with a request for freight of $580 to be sent via Money Gram. She sent me $1280 and the paypal email said that It couldn’t be released until they received the confirmation number from Money Gram. BIG SCAM!! I immediately searched on google and it seems like a lot of people receive emails from this nancy michelle. PLEASE NOTE: These emails look just like they send them from PayPal but are totally fake! Please be careful! They are still sending me emails saying that I’ll be reported to the autorities if I dont do the transfer in 24 hours. HA! Please don’t stop sharing.

  • Jay

    Thanks for posting this, I just got an identical offer for my “item” and your post helped me put a stop to it!

  • Heres one I played around with knowing it was to good to be true. About a month ago i was looking for a job on craigslist and I seen a posting looking for warehouse/manager position. The job was to be local and send out supplies for the people on safari. I did my research. They did have a website. The info on it was the same. I looked a little deeper and seen another website these scammers were piggy backing from. I let the ligit website know their site was being used in a scam and i was following through so i can see where this was going.
    I responded to the craigslist post. A few day later
    I got an email telling me I was a good match for the job and I had to perform a few tasks before my interview. (There is a lot more to this story. Im skipping all the run around stuff.) In short… they sent me a cashiers check for $2700. I too had to let them know when I got the check. I did. I took it to the bank. Told them what was going on. My bank and I are real close and they truely look out for me. We photocopied the check and clearly seen it was fake. The tracking numbers came up at some bank branch it Washington. They gave me a few war stories of other customers and other scams. Thanking me for bringing it to thier attention.
    I didn’t respond to the one that sent me the check. I waited. The next day, email after email came in insisting i send the money . If i didn’t the police were going to be called. Well… i told the police about it. Gave them all of the correspondence. In the end… if you find yourself is simular situations, put all emotional thinking aside and allow logical thinking to take over. You’ll see little signs that tell you something isn’t right.

    On two occasions about a year apart from one onother i was going to buy another vehicle. I came across two more scams. They were both the same only bifferent vehicles. A woman claims she’s in the military and selling her awesome vehicle that used to belong to her now dead husband. She can’t get away because she’s in training and getting ready to be deployed overseas. She was going to have the vehicle delivered to my address. I get to test drive it for 7 days and if i liked it send her the money. Again, in short… she wanted a down deposit just in case anything happened and to help cover the costs of having it delivered.
    I can’t help but wonder how many people fall for these scams. I fill sorry for the victims mainly because they don’t any justice. Reporting them doesn’t do any good. There are to many scams and not enough resourses to presue them. The majority of these scams come from overseas where they know they won’t get any repercussions. You know the saying… If it’s to good to be true… stay sharp. Tgink logically.

  • I have been applying for jobs on Craig’s List and I got an email from a Mary Madamski wanting a personal assistant and she says that she will pay me $40.00 an hour. She is an artist and travels a lot but she needs some information from me and she gives me a list of questions. I have gotten 3 of those emails today but all from different people. Each one of them is worded about the same. I know it is a scam, seems kinda of stupid on their part…I mean who wants somebody’s information that isn’t even working, obviously I don’t have money!!!

  • Jeff

    Thanks for the great information! I got the same e-mail, almost word-for word for a craigslist post. Your post helped me decide not to engage this person. This time the sender was Amanda Latrisha Collins offering a Cashiers Check and a mover to pick up a small boat motor. And yes, the English and typing got worse each e-mail. email address given was: amandaanx@gmail.com .

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