Macbook Pro's are great, but at what cost?
August 19, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I am considering the local purchase of a Macbook Pro on Craiglist. Some of the circumstances around the sale are making me skeptical. I would appreciate your thoughts and advice.

Before getting started, let me first say that I am aware of the common Craigslist scams involving shipping internationally, over-payment for an item, etc. This situation doesn't have elements of that. Also, I have bought and sold on Craigslist many, many times before, mostly computer-related items, so I am familiar with that process.

Background: I am currently located in "Town A" of a Western US state. A few days ago I was browsing Town A's Craigslist site and came across a Macbook Pro listing in the Computers category. The listing stated that the Macbook Pro was purchased 2-3 months ago, includes all the manuals and software discs, but is missing the box. The seller claims the Macbook Pro is in perfect condition, no scratches, marks, or stains. Seller is located in "Town B" and provides a contact name and phone number, as well as 3 pictures of the Macbook Pro. The seller's asking price is $800. No other details are provided in the listing.

Looking at the pictures, it's obvious that this is a new/newer Macbook Pro and does indeed appear to be in great shape.

I emailed the seller with a list of questions, listed below. His answers are in brackets:

1) Are you the original owner? [I am the original owner, my brother bought it online for me brand new.]

2) What model (screen size, release date, etc.) of Macbook Pro is this? [I'm not sure of screen size but its a big screen.]

3) Was it purchased locally or online? [I'm not sure if he (the brother) ordered it from the apple store or where he got it.]

4) Do you have AppleCare (extended warranty) coverage for this? [It doesn't have any warranty's on it.]

5) Have you had any hardware issues with it since owning it? [I have never had a problem with it all, it runs like the day I got it.]

6) How come you're selling this after only owning it for a few months? [I just enrolled for school in "Town C", and bought another. So I need the money elsewhere.]

Since the seller did not seem to know the model or provide any hardware specs, I followed up with a request for the Macbook Pro's serial number. The seller provided the serial number and I looked it up on Apple's Technical Specifications site and discovered it was a Macbook Pro (17-inch, Mid-2010), the most current model.

I also checked the warranty status of the Macbook Pro using Apple's service and support lookup tool and it showed that the laptop is registered, has telephone technical support until 8/26/10, and has repair and service coverage until 5/27/11.

I have scheduled a day and time to meet with the seller at a public location in Town B in the coming days. Although the emails and seller appear legit, I still have some healthy skepticism about the sale for these reasons:

1) Obviously, the asking price of $800. This laptop retails on Apple's site for $2,299, and most comparable 17" Macbook Pros that I've seen on Craigslist (in other areas) are going for at the very minimum twice as much. I have attempted to rationalize this price by conjecturing that a) the seller is not aware of the value of the laptop (given the small town, less-informed nature of the area), b) the seller was not the purchaser (his brother was, according to what I was told) so he's looking to make some quick money for school on an item he does not need/use/have investment in, c) the laptop is stolen, or d) there's something seriously wrong with the laptop that isn't apparent given the information I have from the seller.

2) The seller listed the Macbook Pro is Town A (my town) and not in his own town, Town B, which has its own Craigslist site. It should be noted that Town A is quite a bit larger (by +40k people) than Town B, so maybe the seller was hoping for greater exposure. I have not found the item listed on any other Craigslist sites in the state.

I'm torn because the price is so good (yes, possibly too good to be true, and we all know the lesson in that) but given this area (and the lack of computer/technical savvy of most of its people) it would not be totally out of the question for a person here not to know what they're selling or the value of it, and if legit, it would be a tremendous value purchase on an item I would like to own. I am, however, not so naive to think that scams and stolen property deals can't be consummated in this area.

As I see it, my options are to meet the seller, cancel the meeting with the seller, or go to the meeting but not immediately identify myself to see if the seller shows and to scope out the seller and the laptop.

How would you approach this situation?

Thanks for your help.
posted by karizma to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds way too good to be true. I'm guessing stolen or broken; probably the former. Laptops are incredibly easy to steal, especially around schools. Also, this is very fishy:

6) How come you're selling this after only owning it for a few months? [I just enrolled for school in "Town C", and bought another. So I need the money elsewhere.]

There's an easy way to see if he's fencing stolen property: as cleanly as you can fit it into conversation, suggest that you're associated with the police in some way. If he bails, it was stolen. If he doesn't, well... he could be legit, or he might be calling your bluff.

Be careful. Bring a friend.
posted by supercres at 10:34 AM on August 19, 2010

Seconding supercres. I'm afraid it does sound too good to be true and if I were you I wouldn't gamble $800 to find out. But, man, I do miss my (former employer's) MacBook Pro. Good luck.
posted by Buffaload at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2010

I wouldn't do it. I'd guess stolen. A distant second guess would be that it's broken.

If this person is savvy enough to use laptops and be comfortable selling them on Craigslist, then he's savvy enough to do basic research on what it's worth. The thing is practically brand-new. This is far too good of a deal to be legit. I keep away from stuff like this.

Even if it's fully functional it's not cool to buy stolen goods from a thief.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:42 AM on August 19, 2010

Have him give you the serial number of the unit, call your local independent Apple Retailer (and *not* an apple store) with the serial number, and if you ask sufficiently nicely, they can tell you the date the laptop was purchased and when it was registered. They can also calculate if the item still has warranty left, and it's my opinion that they can tell if it has been reported to Apple as stolen.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:45 AM on August 19, 2010

I would also say that it sounds too good to be true, especially given what supercres points out about question 6. It could be possible that the seller bought a smaller laptop that would be more convenient for school use, but that's still kind of a long shot.

I'd think it unlikely that he would have the original discs and manuals if it was indeed stolen. The discs have printed on them that they're for a 17-inch Macbook Pro if they're actually the ones that came in the box, so if he has regular retail discs for Snow Leopard and iLife that would be a red flag.

Definitely take a friend with you if you meet. If you do end up going through with the sale, strongly consider buying Applecare before the original warranty is up next year in case it turns out to be a lemon.
posted by crosbyh at 10:46 AM on August 19, 2010

Really, for an easily saleable, high value asset like a Macbook where there are plenty of price comparators for the seller, if it's too good to be true, then walk away.

As you've guessed, when more and more things don't add up, then the risk increases.

My guess is either the thing's hot, it doesn't work or the seller plans to do the old switcharoo with "the laptop" in the bag once you've seen the goods.

posted by MuffinMan at 10:48 AM on August 19, 2010

Normally, I would say this is stolen, too. But DVDs and manuals? Then you've got his number, thus his address, and could later on identify him. Also, I looked up his phone number, and there do not seem to be any more ads, which indicates at least he's not a pro, and there are also seem to be no complaints on this number. (see e.g.

I'd say there is something fishy, but not so much it's stolen, but more in the line he is selling stuff his brother/relatives do not want him to sell.

(I am not in the US, so YMMV re identifying him.)
posted by Henrik at 10:53 AM on August 19, 2010

Looking at the pictures, it's obvious that this is a PICTURE OF A new/newer Macbook Pro and does indeed appear to be in great shape.
posted by inigo2 at 11:02 AM on August 19, 2010

Err, sorry, forgot what I said. I found another ad, this time an "hardly been used" iPad. So, I change my recommendation to: DO NOT BUY. :)

(Don't want to paste in the Craigslist URL. OP, just search for ipad and his phone number on Google.)
posted by Henrik at 11:04 AM on August 19, 2010

forget what I said
posted by Henrik at 11:06 AM on August 19, 2010

An aside--seller might be addicted to drugs. It is amazing how that warps your sense of value. I have no idea why, but I do not think it is stolen. I assume you will thoroughly check it out--meet in a public place that is wireless and go online with the computer to once again verify the serial number, warranty etc--and if possible cross check ID numbers of original discs against the internal records on the the computer. On a Mac is it possible to verify ID of software against ID on original packaging. Obviously, once you verify it is what he says do not let it out of your hands. I hope it turns out to be a good deal. Do not go alone.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:11 AM on August 19, 2010

$800? Stolen or broken. Run his pics through tineye..
posted by rhizome at 11:48 AM on August 19, 2010

Could be stolen. Could be someone looking for drug money. Could just be someone who doesn't know any better or who had a mac dropped on them by a sibling when they'd rather have a PC. If they're pricing it based on PC expectations that could certainly explain the price difference.

You have the serial number and it's apparently not reported stolen. Personally I'd take a chance on it just being a good deal. If you're really concerned about it you could call the police department in Town whatever-the hell and tell them you have someone offering to sell you a used computer and you want to make sure it's not stolen, do they have a report of an item matching that description?
posted by phearlez at 11:58 AM on August 19, 2010

$800 for a new 17" MBP? And he needs money but just bought another laptop? And doesn't know where the laptop was purchased?

Either the seller is incredibly naive, or the machine is stolen/broken. I know which way I'd bet.
posted by zippy at 12:29 PM on August 19, 2010

Just suggest you meet in the parking lot of a local police station. (Advice from a brother-in-law cop in Seattle). If there is anything non-legit, he bails. I would be most immediately wary that I would get clunked over the head somewhere with the guy knowing I had $800 cash in my pocket.
posted by nickjadlowe at 1:00 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback everyone. I'm definitely leaning towards passing on this, just because there's a few too many unknowns and assuming anything might turn into an $800 (or worse) mistake. Out of all the possible outcomes, the only one I would want (legit seller, legit laptop) seems less and less likely given all the possible negative outcomes and that, for me, is difficult to ignore.

@Henrik: A couple of days ago I too discovered the second (iPad) listing for this seller that you mention, but decided not to mention it in my question, partly because I wasn't sure how relevant it was and partly because I wanted to see what peoples' thoughts were on the situation at face-value. I'm not sure how the other sale relates, but it certainly could point to a pattern of behavior for the seller - it's hard to say.

@rhizome: I ran the pictures through tineye as you suggested and no results were found.

Thanks again for the advice. Please feel free to continue sharing your thoughts!
posted by karizma at 1:42 PM on August 19, 2010

Just because it has the manuals and DVDs doesn't mean it's not stolen (or isn't about to be stolen). It could be his room mate's laptop!

Believe your hunch!
posted by Sutekh at 7:44 AM on August 20, 2010

"A man has been arrested in connection with a scheme in which electronic equipment was advertised at deep discounts on Craigslist, and would-be buyers were robbed when they showed up"
posted by inigo2 at 1:10 PM on August 28, 2010

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