Scammers or "real" people?
August 23, 2010 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to sell an inexpensive item on Craigslist. I've received a couple of responses from interested people, but how can I tell if they're "real"?

Two weeks ago, I posted a "for sale" ad on Craigslist for a used baby item I'm trying to sell for $20. Until yesterday, I had only received one reply (about a week ago) -- someone asking if I would take $15 for it.

Then last night, I got an email from someone (I'll use similar names -- let's call this person "Tiffany Schneider") with a Hotmail address (name and string of numbers) who wrote, "Hello, is this [item] still available?? Thanks." Exactly an hour later, I got an email from, let's call her "Sarah Johnson," asking, "Hello I was wondering if the playmat was still available? Thanks, Sarah." She had a Gmail address (name with a string of numbers).

I replied to both and said that yes, the item was still available. "Sarah" wrote back quickly and said, "We would like to buy it.I can get it any day that is good for you." (Scammer red flag ... incorrect punctuation around periods.) Only 20 minutes later, "Tiffany" wrote back and said, "Can u please send a pic?" The thing is, I had included a photo in the original ad.

I haven't written back to either one yet, but something seems "off" about this. All the circumstances together make me suspicious, but am I just being paranoid? I've read the other AskMes on Craigslist scams, but neither of these women (if they are separate people) have mentioned Paypal or money orders or living abroad or anything like that. How can I tell if they're genuine? Is there something I can ask to make sure?
posted by trillian to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It sounds OK to me - I would make sure you are talking to a real person who really lives locally before any money changes hands, and keep it a cash transaction. When I see something I want on craigslist, I usually send a fairly minimalist reply. And some people don't communicate well - maybe she means more photos, or that for some reason she couldn't see the ones you attached?

Re the ability to tell if they're genuine: ask for a phone number, or give them yours - whatever you're more comfortable with. Have a conversation - if it doesn't sound right, then maybe call it off.
posted by Sara C. at 7:55 AM on August 23, 2010

Neither sound like a scammer to me. Get a phone number and talk to them on the phone.
posted by wongcorgi at 7:58 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

They sound normal to me. I'd just email the first on to make a plan to get the item and gently remind cash only.

The second is a little odd, asking for a pic. Just remind them there is a pic, or ignore them if they make you uncomfortable.

The fact they mention the item specifcally is a good sign. And I don't think scammers target the $20 sales much. Too much work for minimal return.
posted by purenitrous at 7:58 AM on August 23, 2010

I don't see anything odd about Sarah's response. Is it that there is no space after the first period? Maybe she's typing on a phone, and she said she'd get it. I'd tell her a day that works and set something up (never at your own house, of course; at a coffee shop or something nearby). I'd also reply to Tiffany and remind her you included a picture with the post on Craigslist. It will be easy to see if she is scamming soon enough. If someone is willing to meet you in public and buy something for $20 then it's highly doubtful there's a scam involved. Good luck.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:59 AM on August 23, 2010

This sounds exactly (verbatim) a couple of emails responding to a listing I posted about a month ago. Short, brief messages, and asking for a pic after I both posted pictures in the ad and sent them attachments. The next message was a demanding "take the posting down now because I consider it mine and am ready to transfer money ASAP."

The person could be real but flaky, or a scammer. If you deal only with cash and with people locally, you'll be fine 99% of the time when selling/buying via craigslist. Otherwise, trust your gut. Ask for a phone number if you're still unsure.
posted by raztaj at 8:00 AM on August 23, 2010

Just ask if they're willing to meet with you in a public place to pick up the thing. If they want you to mail it to them and pay you by check or paypal, that would be a red flag, considering it is a $20 item.
posted by griphus at 8:00 AM on August 23, 2010

Best answer: They sound normal. Lots of real people have name+number email addresses and lazy grammar. If they're quick to respond and willing to pick it up and pay cash, they're probably legit. (If you're really concerned, arrange to meet them in public for the exchange so they don't know where you live.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:03 AM on August 23, 2010

Best answer: It's craigslist. You are going to get poor punctuation. Try to use a craigslist-specific e-mail address so you won't fall victim to spammers (I have gotten very interesting call-and-response craigslist spam that sounded legit the first time around). Otherwise, arrange to meet folks in person, speak to them on the phone first, and deal in cash.

You will know they are real when they come to pick up your item and pay you in cash.
posted by thejoshu at 8:12 AM on August 23, 2010

FWIW I've had the least scams and flakes with baby items.
posted by k8t at 8:12 AM on August 23, 2010

I check craiglist items on my smartphone. On smartphones it's easy to mess up spelling/punctuation. That may be the case for the first person. For the second, she may have replied before she saw the picture fully loaded on her phone.
posted by jstarlee at 8:16 AM on August 23, 2010

Meet them in person.

Tiffany's request for a photo is weird. I'd go with Sarah.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:18 AM on August 23, 2010

It's pretty obvious to know if they're a scammer. After they get a reply from their introductory, "is it still available?" e-mail, the scammer will follow up with an email offering slightly more money that you're asking in exchange for taking a money order delivered by mail or wire transfer with the promise that his friend will come to pick up the item for him, since the buyer is out of town.

If he offers to meet in person and pay cash, then it's legit, but you don't know that until you follow up with the what-seem-to-be scammy "fishing" emails looking for a gullible mark.

So wait until they reply to determine whether it's a scammer or not.
posted by deanc at 8:24 AM on August 23, 2010

Requesting another photo is (I've heard) a technique to ascertain that the seller is in possession of the item for sale rather than a collection of photos lifted from another ad on the same or another site. Basic fraud protection basically.

Of course, this was in the context of buying musical instruments that needed shipping. Why anyone would bother for a local $20 babything is utterly beyond me.
posted by stet at 8:36 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As Stet said - a lot of people will ask for additional photos - but that's only to make sure you have the item or that they would actually like to see additional photos.
Maybe that's what she meant.

My boyfriend sells a lot on Craigslist - and he receives a lot of responses that ask for a picture - and he will either not respond (he has no patience) or if he does, he will say, "there is a picture in the post" - and I know at least twice, they told him they couldn't see it. One was some old farmer guy trying to buy an acoustic guitar and the other was a.. well.. not computer smart and from the country.
So, it could be either of those two things.

but like everyone already said, you'll know soon enough - if they want to transfer money, mail money, have you ship it (for something like a $15 item), then it's 99.99999% a scam
posted by KogeLiz at 8:44 AM on August 23, 2010

I'm confused. How, exactly, are you worried about being scammed here? You're doing an in-person, for-cash transaction, right? No way you should be accepting anything but cash for a $20 item.
posted by mkultra at 8:56 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's really hard to tell with CL. I'd ask for a phone number. You'll know soon enough if it's a scam because they'll do something scammy (ask for a money transfer, etc).

Just a tip - if it's been 2 weeks with no response, I'd delete and repost. Many people get bored and don't look past the first page or two. You don't want to be a jerk and post every day, but two weeks is more than enough gap time.
posted by radioamy at 9:23 AM on August 23, 2010

Best answer: Craigslist is for local pick up sales only. You write people back and tell them you have it and if they don't want to come get it (and want you to ship), it's a scam. Simple as that. If they want to come buy it and pay cash... it's not? It's not complicated.

People are asking for photos because Craigslist resizes all photos posted to a standard size, which often is too damn small. Just email them your pictures as you sent them to CL and they will probably be fine enough resolution for them. I buy off Craigslist almost weekly and I often ask for pictures for ads that already have photos.
posted by dobbs at 9:38 AM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You can edit the post after you submitted it to include a "change the subject line to X" statement and you only answer to people who have taken the time to change the subject line from the default. This weeds out scammers who just reply to the e-mails with a pasted "is this still available" statement in the body.

Tell them to include a phone number with their response
posted by ijoyner at 12:35 PM on August 23, 2010

Asking for a pic is not odd. She is likely looking a number of ads and not paying much attention to them or keeping them straight. You have to view it from the buyer's perspective. Also, your picture on your ad may be busted in some way for her.
posted by chairface at 2:38 PM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I emailed "Sarah" back and she gave me her (local) phone number. She's heading over here now. (Yes, to my house, but I only have CL buyers come over when someone else is home with me, like my husband.)
posted by trillian at 4:36 PM on August 23, 2010

I hate to admit it but an email address with a name and a string of numbers (by which I mean more than 4) immediately sets off alarms bells.

I mean, who deliberately decides to have Surely you'd try and find something better so that your friends and family have a remote chance of remembering it?

Good to hear that Sarah turned out to be legit.
posted by mr_silver at 5:42 AM on August 24, 2010

Almost everyone on Craigslist has terrible grammar. You didn't notice that when you looked at other ads?
posted by twblalock at 5:57 AM on August 24, 2010

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