Trust your Gut: How to Avoid a Craigslist Scam

Step One: Don’t be dumb.

Step Two: Call your dad.

Step Three: Trust your gut.

This is a tale of a non-dumb, unsuspecting (maybe a little naive?) girl who tried and failed at Craigslist. Hopefully my Craigslist saga will teach you lessons in spotting scams, following the trail and trusting your gut. If nothing else, it will help you feel better about how smart you are.

Major Key: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

The Background

Lemme start by saying a few things:

  • I’ve sold things on Craigslist before and heard many legends about scams.
  • I consider myself to be less gullible than most, but choose to see the best in people and their intentions.
  • I am SO tired of lugging these wheels around and NO ONE wants basically brand new, generic Mazda wheels.

So when I had an inquiry about the wheels, I was quite excited. I am going to chalk up what follows to eagerness to get rid of said wheels, excitement for influx of cash and plain, old innocence.

The Saga

The situation started out as most Craigslist interactions do: “Yes, the wheels are available”, “Cool, when can I pick them up?”. It got weird when the mysterious texter, whom we will refer to as Mean Robert from this point on, said he would send a check in excess by certified mail. (Hello, this is your first red flag.) When I received the money, I was to deposit my sum and pay the remaining balance to the “movers” who would be picking up the wheels. (Yup, second red flag, coming in hot.) It was weird, but life is weird. And, he sounded polite and professional and I already had my mind on a bottle(s) of red wine in the mountains, so I agreed.

When I arrived to work on Monday (bc I am a little bit smart, and didn’t give him my home address), I had an important looking envelope on my desk and inside was a $1,500 check. YUP, ONE THOUSAND AND 500 AMERICAN “DOLLARS”.

First thought: “Wow, I could buy a LOT of things with this…”.
Followed by: “Damn, Mean Robert is VERY trusting in the average Craigslist-er”.
And finally with: “Hm, that’s a lot of money to pay movers.”

A little twinge of concern popped up at this point, but it was Monday morning and I hadn’t had my coffee yet. So, I deposited the check. (Guys, I know. We are now up to three big red flags.)

By Monday afternoon, Mean Robert was texting me consistently, asking if I had the cash and when to schedule the pick up. At this point, I was feeling uneasy. As an AVID true crime watcher and having just finished binge watching “Making a Murderer,” I was convinced at this point that I was definitely going to get kidnapped and/or murdered. My roommate calmed me down, explained that I was probably overreacting (usually a 99% chance that is the case) and encouraged me to take a guy friend to the wheel swap. Ok, definitely not getting murdered. And definitely on my way to more moolah.

To confirm the deal, I called the number Mean Robert had been texting me on…here’s the kicker…it was a Google Voice number. (Major red flag.) Now I am scared. And back to getting murdered. Mean Robert called me back from a different number with a Florida area code. After talking to him, I chalked up the confusion and complication of the moving/payment situation to his language barrier.

Until I talked to my Dad. Who was absolutely flabergasted that his intelligent, successful, adulting (his words, not mine) daughter had found herself in this situation. As I explained the story (and listened to his disconcerted sighs), I knew that something wasn’t right.

Tomorrow, I would head to my bank and return the money to Mean Robert. (Still innocent as ever, over here. That’s me.)

The bank manager was just as flabergasted and disconcerted as my dad.

The Clues

We did some digging and this is what we found:

  • Robert called me from a Florida number and had been texting me from a California number
  • He had sent the check from a New York address
  • The “certified check” featured the logo of two banks: Wells Fargo and a credit union in Georgia
  • The routing number was coming from Minneapolis
  • The bank logos were blurry and missing an address
  • The signature was digitized, not actually signed by a person
  • The check was lacking a watermark and didn’t pass the void protection features

Absolutely convinced that I was being scammed, we called the credit union to confirm and the teller on the other end repeated my story back to me before I had a chance to even explain. Mean Robert has been scamming innocent, adult-ers all across the country.

The Scam

So here’s how this scam would work: I wold deposit the $1,500 check into my account and the check would “clear.” Keeping my portion from the sale, I would take out $1,200 of the new, flossy balance in my account to pay the movers. They would take the wheels, I would do a little jig and head immediately to Sephora. And a week or so later, the check would be returned as fraudulent and I would be out $1,200 of my real, hard earned money.

NOT TODAY, SIR, NOT TO-DAY.

The Recovery

Since I had not withdrawn  or spent of any of the “money” Robert gave me, I would simply wait for the check to bounce, block Mean Robert’s number and carry on with my day. I had (jussssst barely) out-smarted the scammer.

The Lesson

There are a lot of lessons you can learn from my too-trusting tale.  Starting and ending with: Don’t be dumb, call your dad and trust your gut. Which applies to almost everything in life. If something sounds too good to be true (or in this case, a little sketchy), it probably is. Make the time to slow down and look at the facts.

Here are some other things that I learned:

  • No one is going to send you an extra $1,200. No one. Especially if you have NEVER MET THEM.
  • Just because your balance appears to be updated to reflect the deposited check, it can still come back several days and weeks as a fraudulent check. If you are concerned, call your bank immediately.
  • Each check has a series of security features listed on the back. If you are in possession of a suspicious check, test out some of the security features before depositing.
  • If you deposited a check on your Chase mobile app, there is nothing you can do from stopping it from being deposited in your account.

Truth be told, I am not the best person to be giving advice on “how not to be scammed on craigslist” because…well…hello. But, here is the official Craigslist canon about scams. Read it, I wish I did.

If you are interested in the wheels, you will be happy to know that they will be taking up permanent residence on my balcony and I shall call it art.

3 Comments

  1. I’m surprised that even via the mobile app, the check wasn’t flagged as fraudulent if none of the details matched up. I’m sorry you had to go through this – I, too, fell for a CL scam about 12 years ago. A “designer” contacted me because I was a budding photographer and he was going to help me get published. He would send me his clothes, I needed to secure the models and take the photos and he would to the rest of the work. My red flags should have been 1) I had to do all the work. 2) The guy asked me to send money via Western Union to Canada. 3) I had no way of reaching this guy by phone, although he called me regularly. I was out $300 and in return, I got a bunch of ugly ass clothes that not even a model size 2 could fit into. Same lessons learned. I’m just glad that you learned yours before you were out the dough.

  2. I had the same dilemma with an extra set of wheels – no one wanted them.The tire store allowed me to trade them in for a credit towards new tires once my new car needed tires. Maybe that could be a less sketchy way to go?

    1. Oh thanks for the feedback, Michelle! I tried a few auto shops and even a pawn shop, no one wanted them! I ended up dropping them off at an auto salvage yard and hope they find a second life.

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