Monday, November 21, 2011

As Shrewd As Snakes

You should recognize this passage from Matthew 10:16: "Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."  It remains an important goal.

An older couple that I know called me up to ask for my advice concerning purchasing a truck that they saw advertised on Craig's List.  As they described the situation, it was very nearly the canonical collection of warning signs of fraud.  This is the reason that when you visit Craig's List's cars & trucks section, it warns you to suspect fraud when:

  • Shipping a vehicle to you is suggested by seller

  • eBay Motors or another intermediary is specified by seller

  • Payment by Western Union or a money wire is requested

  • Price is unusually low (fraction of blue book value)

  • If you see these tell-tale signs, flag ad as "prohibited" and avoid
    And of course:
    Offers to ship a vehicle are virtually 100% fraudulent
    The warning signs of fraud on this particular transaction:

    1. The seller's contact information was by email.
    2. The seller cannot be contacted by phone at the moment, because she is in training in the Army, and has no phone access (but does have email access).
    3. The truck is in Kentucky.
    4. The seller is at a U.S. Army base in Oxfordshire, England.
    5. "The Army will ship you the truck."

    At this point I asked, "Is this like a real steal bargain?"

    And the answer was, "Why, yes it is."

    As I said, nearly the home run of signs that this is actually someone in Nigeria, China, or the former Soviet Union.  No phone number?  Because this person can't produce a plausible American accent.  A real steal bargain?  So why can't they find a buyer in Kentucky?  Appeals to patriotism and trust: "I'm in the Army" and "The Army will ship you the truck."

    I hate to be a cynical, skeptical person, but the world is full of crooks, prepared to take advantage of those who are trusting and honest, and have a hard time imagining the deviousness of others.


    1. There is a special place in hell for those that steal the savings of older folks.

    2. A few years ago I found an Airstream Bambi on the Austin Craigslist for a price that was a fraction of what I expected. Within minutes of it's posting I had an email on the way saying I wanted it if it was as he described it. I got a nice email in reply telling all about it. The next exchange made it very clear the person answering the email knew little about the rig, but knew all about the purchase / exchange process. When they said it was actually in Pennsylvania and I'd need to send them the money before sending someone to inspect it I reported them to fraud.

      It was a clever scam, the pictures looked like the Hill Country here in central Texas and the initial reply was obviously well researched and written by someone other than the scammer.

      It's a jungle out there.

    3. The idea of Craigslist is to buy and sell common things locally. EBay exists to buy and sell things with a niche market. The only cars worth buying or selling outside a particular local area are collectibles.

    4. The other telltale is that as far as I can tell, there aren't any Army bases anywhere in England, these days.

      You'd think a cheat would at least invent a more plausible lie.

    5. That suggests a Nigerian scammer. Perhaps they said, "Army Air Force base" in England, and my friends did not catch that.

    6. When I see a "deal" on craigslist, I select some uncommon phrase from the ad and do a google search with the phrase in quotes. I've found that if they are a scammer it is quite likely that they are trying to scam on several city's craigslists at once.