Possible Craigslist Scam?
November 14, 2007 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Is there a scam here that I'm not seeing? I'm planning to buy a Mac Mini off Craigslist for a family member. Found a Mac, it's a good price for this model, maybe a little low, but not suspiciously so. Local seller, responsive to e-mail. Local cellphone number. Gmail address that doesn't appear to be a throwaway. But something doesn't feel right. I've bought electronics in this price range off Craigslist before but the seller in this case seems to be providing an atypical amount of reassurance about the purchase.

Here's an overview of the situation:
posted by jeffhoward to Human Relations (17 answers total)
Response by poster: His Craigslist post was very brief, but did mention a warranty.
Apple Intel Mac Mini, 1GB RAM w/keyboard, mouse - $500
Intel Mac Mini, 1GB RAM, condition good as new, OSX with Airport & Bluetooth, warrantied to middle of next year, please email for more details.
I e-mailed the anonymous craigslist address and got back a reply within a few hours from his Gmail account. His first e-mail answered my question about his location (local) but also contained ten dense paragraphs of information about the computer, how he has upgraded it, what kinds of things he uses the computer for, information about all the illicit high-end software he's installed and that of course I should delete, calculated to appeal to my greed apparently. That's followed by paragraphs and paragraphs of text from Apple's website and Cnet reviews etc.

Besides containing about seven paragraphs too many concerning the drama of switching to a Mac for the first time, his subsequent conversion and his computing life in general, this paragraph of reassurance seemed off:
I've bought computer items from Craigslist dozens of times, but the only previous Craigslist sales I've done were three laptops for a couple of hundred each. In those cases, I hoped I wouldn't hear from the buyers about some problem, but not so in this case. I'm confident this Mac will last for years, so I'm perfectly willing to help the buyer with hardware or software complications for unlimited duration. One of the questions I always ask when I buy from CL is, "What problems have you had with this item?" In this case, the answer sincerely is, none whatsoever. I consider it a perfect computer.
He also mentions that it's a refurbished computer and that he'll include the "cardboard box with [his] name and all on it and the packing foam in case it has to be shipped," which I think is meant to reassure me that it's not stolen.

I talked to him on the phone last night and he mentioned (unsolicited) that I could even return the computer within 72 hours if I decided I didn't want it. This isn't a company advertising on Craigslist; it sounds like a college student who claims to be "running short of funds and needs to sell [the computer]."

We're going to meet this afternoon in my building lobby for the exchange. He offered to bring along a monitor so I can boot up the computer to check it out before I hand over the money.

I don't see an opening for a scam here, but it doesn't feel quite right. Am I missing an angle, or am I just being paranoid?
posted by jeffhoward at 7:40 AM on November 14, 2007

I don't think you're paranoid. Giving too much information is often a sign that somebody's trying to hide something. The liar thinks the details make it more real. I would avoid this guy like the plague. Who knows what kind of scam it is, but since he bigtime mentioned jolly rogers software, I'd just assume it's a pirating catch and move on.
posted by headspace at 7:47 AM on November 14, 2007

I don't see a scam here. This sounds to me like a nice guy who's really into Macs and thinks everyone else is, too. I say go meet the guy, try out the computer, etc. If you get a bad vibe from the situation, then you should of course walk away (always my advice), but don't spend the whole time looking for the problem.

Incidentally, the paragraph you copied that you said "seemed off" sounds to me like something I would write if I were selling a computer. I'm a computer professional, and I do tech support for my friends and family as do most people in my line of work, so as a selling point I would probably offer to do the same for the person who purchased the computer I was selling.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:49 AM on November 14, 2007

If the computer boots up and runs, I would buy it. It's not like a car where you can patch up big problems for the sale. If it works now it works.

Maybe he just lacks self-confidence.
posted by pantsonfire at 7:55 AM on November 14, 2007

I congratulate you on your healthy sense of paranoia, but nothing seems too awful here. Overselling reassurance is something liars do, but it's also something people do when they're just plain talking too much.

I'd just keep everything safe when it comes to this person, and it'll probably work out. Meet publically (like in a lobby, natch) in broad daylight.

Tell us how it goes, if you plan to do it. Just don't give this person any personal information whatsoever.

If you were REALLY smart, you'd ask the guy to wipe the hard drive, because that's the only unkosher thing going on. Not that I'd imagine it's part of some huge sting or anything, but you never know.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:00 AM on November 14, 2007

Lonely kid who talks too damn much.

Meet somewhere in public, preferably somewhere you can plug the computer in and turn the power on, just to make sure it lights up and dings (the power-on chime on a Mac is a sign that it passes POST and doesn't have any major logic-board defects).

If something seems hinky, walk away. But I think you may just be dealing with someone who's really socially awkward and doesn't know how to handle this.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:01 AM on November 14, 2007

That sort of interactions would set off my alarm bells too, but then again I've been using CL for many years and seen all sorts of scams.

That said, the fact that you've talked to the guy on the phone and are going to meet him in person alleviates much of my concern.

Just make sure you meet him in a public place.

Also, if it doesn't feel right, don't do it. Period.
posted by wfrgms at 8:03 AM on November 14, 2007

This would set off my alarm bells too. I'm thinking he needs money, fast, and is going to want to get his "perfect" computer back at some point.

But maybe when you meet him you'll find out that he's just an earnest naive kid.
posted by desuetude at 8:10 AM on November 14, 2007

I can see the reason for the alarm bells and am imagining one of two scenarios:

He's an obsessive dork type, who is selling his baby, which he loves dearly, because he cannot love her if he dies of malnutrition and he needs the money for more ramen.

It's stolen and he hopes that providing a zillion details will make it seem like he really knows the system.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:21 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: I don't see this as a scam at all, but something someone like my Dad, who is a very conscientious seller and extremely concerned with his reputation and buyer satisfaction, would do.
posted by misha at 8:41 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

He might just really need the money and has been having a really hard selling it for some reason, so he's overselling it and trying to anticipate any reason you might back out. I mean if you are meeting in a public place and you can boot it up and check it out, I don't see that many ways you could get screwed.
posted by whoaali at 8:58 AM on November 14, 2007

Go with your gut if you aren't sure.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:06 AM on November 14, 2007

I have, in the past, called Apple directly and read them off the serial number from the computer to ask them to check their records to see if it was ever reported stolen. They should be able to tell you if the serial number has been registered before. If this guy is the legitimate owner and registered it, you should be able to confirm this with Apple.

Good luck!
posted by kuppajava at 9:33 AM on November 14, 2007

Don't go down to your lobby alone with the cash on you. Have a friend with you, or run upstairs for teh dough once you confirm that the machine works.
posted by mds35 at 10:31 AM on November 14, 2007

Response by poster: That went pretty well.

The only hitch was that he "forgot" the boxes and the paperwork for the warranty, but he let me keep the monitor as hostage until he brings the boxes/papers by tomorrow.

I'm confident that he was completely above board about everything, and absolutely would be okay if I called him in three days to ask for my money back. Also, he was around 60 years old, and not a teenager as I surmised from his voice over the phone. Misha's comments were right on.

Ultimately, I think all the cloak and dagger with meeting in the lobby and hiding the cash in my mailbox were a little insulting to him. Or maybe not. He may not have grasped why we were meeting in a public place. I felt bad.
posted by jeffhoward at 1:55 PM on November 14, 2007

If he's that picky about details and proving his own legitimacy, he probably wasn't too insulted by you taking precautions.
posted by moonlet at 2:39 PM on November 14, 2007

Sounds like my dad, also. I didn't ever look, but I just know when my dad was selling his beloved car he probably included WAAAY too many details on all the stuff he'd done to it over the years. I think he's probably a kid that likes to talk shop/loves the computer.

Sounds like it went well!
posted by fructose at 3:22 PM on November 14, 2007

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