Caution on Craigslist

As a child, my mother and grandmother warned me about the dangers of deals that looked too good to be true. Initially, the inexperience of youth prevented from understanding their wise words, but as I aged, that advice never left me.

During my junior year of high school, I began building a computer as a replacement for the Acer desktop (our family’s first personal computer) my mother purchased several years earlier. As I neared the end of my PC building project, I searched for the final remaining piece of the electronic puzzle: a video card. I desired a 3dfx video graphic card for years, but ironically, 3dfx went out of business the same year of my computer build, making it difficult to find one of its cards in brick-and-mortar stores.

With few affordable options left in the brick-and-mortar retail market, I tried something new: eBay. Mind you, this was back in the early days of the eBay and eCommerce in general, so there were plenty of folks green like me. The words of mom and grandmother echoed in my head as I searched the website for deals, and sure enough, I caught wind of a scam. Someone who seemingly sold 3dfx cards for a dollar was only selling information on how to buy said cards. Thankfully, I avoided that seller’s nonsense and eventually found a good deal on a Voodoo card. However,that experience soured me on eBay, and it took almost a decade before I purchased something again on the site.

Since returning to eBay, most of my transactions go smoothly but problems do occasionally occur, mostly the result of poor descriptions or bad packaging. Fortunately, eBay does feature policies that make it easier for refunds in such cases. Sometimes these policies do get abused by unscrupulous people, but I’m glad eBay keeps these policies in place. Last year, however, I broadened my eCommerce horizon by searching Craigslist for some potential deals. Outside of one decent yard sale, the pickings often remain slim by my (cheap) standards, but one type of ad constantly caught my eye:

Beware.

Rarely do I browse Craigslist without seeing these types of ads. All of them promise video game products for incredibly cheap prices, and many of them say the seller is located in downtown Chicago. Initially, I almost fell victim to these ads, but on the advice of my parents (yes, I still consult them) I backed off and am glad I did. After doing some research, I found a 2016 Reddit post on the matter, in which user “illegalsandwiches” discovered how these ad scams work by using a decoy email address when contacting the poster of one these listings. What follows is illegalsandwiches’ account of the experience:

Ignore the “cash only” portion of the sale, the verbage is usually taken from another ad (as well as the picture). When you reply to the email address, they will tell you that they are too far away from you and they can ship the item next day if you Paypal them. You pay them, and just never get the item. I had replied to one a long time ago that said that they only take MoneyPak cards for payment. One of them replied with some type of form that I needed to fill out with my name, age, birthday, SSN, “as he was selling this for his business” and needed this information for his records.

Sound shady enough? Upon reading Craigslist’s tips on avoiding scams, the first thing appears on the list in bold letters is “Deal locally, face-to-face.” Immediately following that tip (also in bold type) is “Don’t extend payment to anyone you haven’t met in person.” Obviously, the requests of both posters violate Craigslist tips, so common sense is key here. No matter how good a deal looks, if it seemingly asks too much of you, pass.

Upon seeing these ads, do yourself and others a favor by flagging these listings and admonishing anyone you know who comes across them. Hopefully, we can dissuade people from posting these dubious listings and avoid future scams. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels