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How To Spot A Fake Craigslist Ad

by Clay Conger 21 June 2013 No Comment E-mail Clay Conger

With the convenience of the Internet and the YellowPages being as relevant as the Box Step, it’s no wonder that the majority of searches for jobs, gigs, sales and other services are done online. Craigslist is arguably the easiest site where all such things can be found, yet at the same time is a very mixed bag. Despite its simple design, ease of use, and legitimate ads, there is a scourge of fraudulent, malicious, or straight-up BS ads as well. Getting fooled by these ads can waste your time and possibly rob you of money, so looking out for them is key when on the site. As someone who worked as a Security Policy Specialist for a web company, I could spot fraudulent activity anywhere, and with my experience and with the help of other helpful guides online, here is a guide of what to watch out for when perusing though Craigslist ads.

With the convenience of the Internet and the YellowPages being as relevant as the Box Step, it’s no wonder that the majority of searches for jobs, gigs, sales and other services are done online. Craigslist is arguably the easiest site where all such things can be found, yet at the same time is a very mixed bag. Despite its simple design, ease of use, and legitimate ads, there is a scourge of fraudulent, malicious, or straight-up BS ads as well. Getting fooled by these ads can waste your time and possibly rob you of money, so looking out for them is key when on the site. As someone who worked as a Security Policy Specialist for a web company, I could spot fraudulent activity anywhere, and with my experience and with the help of other helpful guides online, here is a guide of what to watch out for when perusing though Craigslist ads.

How To Spot A Fake Craigslist Ad

1. Poor Writing

If the ad looks like it was written by a five year old, someone who just started learning English, or a dyslexic robot, then stay clear. Fraudulent ads are often made either by automated bots or by people working in places like Nigeria, Cameroon, India or China and as a result many of these ads’ creators have a poor grasp of English. This is not to say people in those countries can’t speak English, just the fraud-spreading ones. Plus, if you are, say, looking for a job and the ad is poorly written, you should know that this is a sign of unprofessionalism. Bad spelling, random CAps lOcK, grammar errors and words that simply don’t make sense in context are all red flags.

2. Location

Craigslist’s own safety page notes in highlighted text that a customer should always deal locally. They go on to note the prevalence of wired funds and fake cashier checks as well. If the ad writer is living somewhere where much of internet fraud originates (like Nigeria) they obviously cannot meet you in person. You have to make sure they can, especially if you are buying or selling something. An article from Wired also extends this advice, saying that “If the seller sends you a name and address to send payment to, look it up on a White Pages service, such as Yahoo! People Search.”
Many scammers will go the extra mile trying to appear legitimate even if they are anything but. Fake names, address, and companies are common. Look them up. If anyone can’t meet in person, if their office doesn’t exist, then report them or just bail out altogether. This is why I almost never pick up the phone if I don’t recognize the number. When this happens, I Google Search the number, and if sites like Ripoff Report pop up, I let it go to voicemail. Never deal with anyone you won’t have the future ability to meet because, at that point, they could be anyone.

3. The Sketch Factor

This part is a little vague, but when I say “Sketch Factor” I mean that if at any time when reading an ad you feel a bit unsettled, like something isn’t quite right, then trust your instincts. If the ad is trying to rent out a house, for example, and it goes into an explanation about their family or refugee status or something about running afoul of the law, a little alarm should go off in your head. As noted before, many of these ads are written rapidly by people who aim for manipulative rather than professional language. This is why many of the ads seem a bit odd, like they were second-rate movie scripts instead of ads. Job ads should be professional and sales/services ads should be straightforward. If something seems odd, if the ad asks you to do something that makes you hesitate, like wiring money (which you should never do), then click the little X in the corner and carry on.

4. Certain Phrases

Scammers create so many of these ads that there are bound to be patterns. They use certain phrases that, once you learn them, can help you avoid a great majority of scams. Kim Brittingham of Unemployement Handbook has a few tips for us:

“Leader in the Industry” a lame phrase that is used to make the ad seem more professional
“$__ for every hour” instead of per hour.
“10$, 11$, 12$…” the dollar sign after instead of before the number.

In addition to these, always watch out for phrases that seem overly friendly, like the infamous “Hello my friend!” opener of Nigerian prince scams. “Please sir” is another one as well. Be wary of ads that seem to be rushing you and use phrases like “HURRY!” or “No Joke!” This is especially true for job or gig ads. There are many more, but these should give you a basic idea of phrase to watch for. If you read through many ads in one sitting, see if certain phrases are consistent and write them down.

5. If It’s Too Good To Be True…

Then it probably is. This type of ad is the hardest to catch because when we see an ad that gives us precisely what we want, the desire for it to be true often overcomes our logic. You go through ad after ad, trying to find a perfect music gig, or a great marketing job, or a perfect couch for your new apartment, or if you’re that kind of Craigslist user, a new lover to keep you company, and then you find it. Before you start sending your information, pause and think, is this too good to be true? Would a company really pay this much for this kind of gig or job? Isn’t this couch a bit unrealistically cheap? Am I positive that this picture isn’t stock image of a porn star?

I know it’s disheartening to realize that something amazing did not in fact fall in your lap, but it’s better to realize a fraudulent ad early, rather than later when your hopes are higher. When in a relationship, composing a song, conceiving a book idea or painting a portrait, use your heart. When ad-surfing on Craigslist, use your brain. That’s the best tip anyone can offer.

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