Saturday, September 29, 2007

How to Spot a Scammer on Craigslist

Many people today use online advertising to sell houses, personal items, clothes, and stuff that they have lying around or tucked away in their attic. I use Craigslist almost religiously. I've sold homes, cars, furniture, DVD players, books, maps, plants, yardwork supplies, appliances--you name it. It's also how I found both of my NY apartments (no broker fee!) and my "Spamalot" tickets, among other things. And the best thing is, it's free! Lots of people use Craigslist all over the world. I'd give anything to meet Craig and thank him for all his help.

For home sales, I did give a try, but that was a big mistake - for my $600 all I got was spamming and scamming and no buyer. Over the course of 11 months, the ForSaleByOwner ad only brought in two legitimate inquiries - and neither resulted in a purchase. So I don't recommend it. gave me the same lousy result. I did try the Batlimore Sun online ad, but guess what - not one single response from that one.

Anyway, when you use online advertising, you're always at risk of falling prey to the many scam artists that are lurking on Craigslist and other sites. After you've seen enough liars inquiring about your FSBO item, you learn to recognize the scammers pretty quickly. And I hope that this blog entry will also help you do that. Please feel free to use the Comments section to add scammer tip-offs that I might miss here.

Ok, for starters the email address of the scammer is always a freebie - from Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail. Those are the most common. And look at the email address. It's usually a funny name (or a "real-looking" name like Kevin Smith) followed by a 2- or 3-digit number or a handful of meaningless letters. This is so that they can continue to create new email addresses by simply incrementing the number or changing consonants. Obviously, they do this a lot, hence the large numbers.

The name that appears in the Reply-to field is frequently all lower-case (and many times is "Jimmy" or "Jim" or "James.") An uncanny number of them refer to themselves as "Reverend" this or that. How ironic is that? These are people who are lurking on Craigslist to steal from unsuspecting people, and they use Christian labels? I'm still waiting for Sister Mary Covenant to contact me about my home.

Here are just a few fake email addresses I've seen in my Inbox over the past year:

jimmy cole []
Hugh reksten []
lisa hepner []
Edward Smith []
geovanni james []
Johnson Billson []
Lisa mary []

Anyway, you get the picture--the name and/or email address is frequently a dead giveway.

The next thing is, scammers love to type in ALL CAPS. Most of us know that this is considered yelling, and typing in all caps is something to avoid online. Many times the subject line will be in all caps and/or have many exclamation points insisting that you get back to them immediately. A lot of scammers also type out the body of the message in all lower case letters with relatively little punctuation. (These thieves are in a hurry!)

But the subject line, nine times out of ten, is the biggest giveaway of all. Some subject lines I've seen that are commonly used by scammers (cutting and pasting these from actual scam emails I've received):

Get back to me!!!!!!!!!!!!
Get back to me!!!!!!!!!
thanks for your email
Got interest in your placing-----

Another giveaway is bad grammar and rotten spelling. Either these guys really are foreigners who failed ESL class, or they want you to think they are (somehow that is supposed to invoke your sympathy?)

And 75% of these idiots claim to be "out of the country" or they want to buy your FSBO item as a gift and have their shipper pick it up. For the guys in Costa Rica and France, they generally tell you that they have an agent who will handle the deal in your home country, and that they are sending you a cashier's check for a large sum of money. Whenever that is the case, they will also tell you that you need to pay their agent out of these funds. (And that's how they steal your money - they send you a bad check and you send their agent a good check. Bye-bye funds!)

Several of them like to send you a list of questions like this - almost always the same:

Thank you for your mail,Indeed I believe first to secure the property through a deposit before any arrangement is to be made because of some other interested party.I am impressed with the property ,I should love to call you to discuss with you but am on a field assignment in Costa Rica and would like to know the followings about your property:-

1. Your last price
2. How many owners?
3. Insurance certificate if any?
4. When did you buy the property and why do you want to sell it?
5. The property and the ownership is on whose name?
Finally,I would like to know your last price ,if your price is ok then I can arrange for a deposit while my agent will call you to arrange for the property inspection and other necessary renovation if any will be taken care of by her.

I awaits your earliest reply

I think the guy in the example above offered to send me a ludicrously high $40,000 down payment on my property to purchase it sight unseen. My god, it was his grammar that made me cringe, though.

Here's another really common one:

Thanks for your mail,meanwhile I believe first tosecure the property through a deposit before anyarrangement is to be made.I am impressed with theproperty,I should love to call you to discuss with youbut am on a field assignment in France and would liketo know the followings about your property:-
1. Your bottom price
2. Is the property originally painted?
3. What major repairs has been done?
4. How the property has been maintained.
5. Any records available?
6. How many owners?
7. Insurance certificate if any?
8. When did you buy the property and why do you want tosell it?
9. Are you a US citizen?
10.The property and the ownership is on whose name?
However,I would like to know your last price(non-negotiable)from that of the net price for onwardtransaction,if your price is ok then I can arrange fora deposit while my agent will call you to arrangefor the house inspection and other necessaryrenovation if any will be taken care of by him.Do getback to me immediately as I have limited time toconclude this this transaction Till I hear from you have a wonderful day.
Lisa Mary.

Scammers almost always don't read your ad, so they ask questions for which the answers are already clearly outlined in your ad. They also love to ask why you are selling it. In a follow-up email, just when they think they've hooked you, they'll ask for your name, address, phone, etc.

Here's another (note the ALL CAPS):


This one, that came today, is my all-time favorite, however. Note the tag line that "Jimmy" is using:

Hello Seller,
Am interested in the sales of the furniture placed in craigslist site but am sending it as a gift to my cousin doing wedding in next 3 weeks as wedding gift and i love it so much.immediately you accept my payment , i will send my shipper to come over to do the pick up from your house but you have to send me your full information include your name, address, state, city, state, zip code and phone number to send the payment through via fedex to delievered my payment to your house .I Await your reply back immediately..

So I replied to Jimmy's email saying, "You spelled advice wrong." Usually when I do that, they know I'm on to them and they don't reply back. (They just go out and create a new email address and move on to their next victim.) But this guy actually replied back:


Jimmy didn't stop yelling long enough for me to continue my fun with him, and I moved on. Here's one that came as just a list and nothing else. . .

1. Your bottom price
2. Is the property originally painted?
3. What major repairs has been done?
4. How the property has been maintained.
5. Any records available?
6. How many owners?
7. Insurance certificate if any?
8. When did you buy the property and why do you want tosell it?
9. Are you a US citizen?

Some of them make it easy on themselves and use a very general question that they can use to respond to multiple ads such as (again, note the frequent misspellings):

Is Your Item Still Availabe?

And a short but sweet one (keep an eye out for phrases like "keen interest" and "secure the property" and "get back to me"). . .

I have a keen interest in buying the above said. Kindly update me asap why you want to sell it and its present conditions.
Hope to hearing from you asap.


i will like to know if your house is still on for sale. get back to me.

Ok, so you get the idea about what kind of phrasing to look out for. It's funny, once you get one of these, and then a second one, after that you know almost instantly what's really going on. You too can become a scam-detector.

What I usually do is forward the scam email to either the email provider's abuse alias or to the classifed web site's abuse alias. Generally, using an alias of either "spam" or "abuse" will get you to the right person. For example:

Et cetera. I encourage you to use these abuse aliases to report spam and scam artists. It's a shame that whenever we get a good thing going (like Craigslist!), some bonehead has to ruin it for the rest of us. But we can help if we keep shutting these bozos down; it certainly doesn't take any time and can't hurt (unless Yahoo pulls one of its "You didn't include the header" stunts, in which case I don't always waste my time correcting them and re-sending the header).

If I think of anything else to add, I'll come back. Meanwhile, send in your comments remarking on scams you've seen in your email Inbox in response to your FSBO ad online.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Airline Etiquette

I flew from Baltimore to Atlanta this weekend to visit family. It's bad enough that I'm a toddler-magnet on every flight, but each time I attempt airline travel I am bombarded with airport etiquette violations.

I like rules. Rules are what makes a society function well together. I am not in the minority here; if I was, we would not have standard systems of government in most of our modern societies. Condominium complexes would not have homeowners associations. Citys and localities would not have laws. Traffic cops would be unemployed.

Anyway, it's really not that hard to understand the unwritten societal rules of operating in a large, moving crowd. Getting along with others in an airport or on a plane is basically just a matter of common courtesy. Violating the norm for behavior with no regard to inconveniencing those around you is a breach etiquette. And yet, there's a willing participant on every corner.

Granted, there might be a variety of views on airline etiquette, but for the most part, I'm betting that my thoughts as I present them here aren't too far from generally accepted behaviors (as viewed by the majority of frequent flyers).

For starters, people who stop and stand in the middle of the concourse to chat ought to be taken out behind the barn and shot. The concourse is like a sidewalk - it's for walking to and from gates, not for family gatherings or cell phone conversations. According to Wikipedia, the word concourse derives from English, French, and Latin, "concursus" and "concurrere," meaning "to run together." Hear that? Running together - not stopping and chatting with friends and family and blocking the path of those running together. If you want to stop and do some standing around, kindly remove your rear end from the concourse and do your standing elsewhere, away from the moving crowd.

Note that the concourse rule also applies to moving sidewalks, which fall under the same category as the escalator rule. The escalator rule is another one that I see violated everywhere - malls, office buildings, and airports alike. Basic escalator etiquette amounts to this: Stand to the right; walk to the left. When you are on the escalator, pretend you are driving a car and passing to the left. If you want to stand on the escalator, that's fine. Just do it on the right and keep your luggage with you.

Then there are the people who hold up the security line by not having their boarding pass and ID out and ready for the TSA guard to verify. (These are the same people in front of you at Safeway who wait until their entire cartful of groceries has been scanned before swiping their card.) There are usually signs, monitors, and announcements telling you how to prepare for the security check long before you get there. Pay attention. This weekend I discovered (from reading a sign at the security checkpoint) that there's a new rule about shoes. To speed up the line, shoes now go directly on the conveyor belt, not in a bin. Despite this fact being posted everywhere (and a TSA agent shouting it to the crowd), people were still putting their shoes in a bin.

And put your liquids in the quart-size sealable bag prior to getting in the security line, please. If you need to stop and take care of these chores, step aside and let folks behind you (who are prepared) move ahead.

Children. That's a whole other ballgame. It's the parents' responsibility to keep their kids in line when they are at the airport and on the plane. I am notoriously subjected to having a 4-year-old sit behind me on the plane and kick my seat or play with the seatback pocket the entire way. Once I turned around and said to the mother/child, "Please stop kicking my seat." The mother's response was, "She's trying." This is a classic example of a parent letting its kid run wild with no regard to the rest of the population. Either you're going to let your kid kick the seat or you're not. There is no "trying" about it.

Oh, and if you're going to bring a portable DVD player or other electronic device to entertain your children on the plane, either bring headphones, or don't bring the device. I once suffered a cross-country trip where a child played videos at a normal listening volume in the row behind me--loud enough that I could hear the bleep-bleep and giggly voices through my ear plugs--the entire trip. His parents were sitting next to him and acted as if there were no annoying sounds coming from their presence on the plane. Once again, these parents had no regard for those around them. I will never understand that type of parent as long as I live.

It's not just kids that can be annoying on an airplane. In fact, nine times out of ten it's a loud-mouthed adult breaking the peace. On a recent flight this woman in the row in front of mine was talking at her fiance about the multitude of details about their upcoming wedding so loudly (and extensively) that another woman in my row would lean over and look at me as if to say, "Am I the only one hearing this?" Not a chance. Everyone was looking at each other as if to say, "Can someone shut her up?" (The poor husband-to-be never got a word in. He may as well take himself behind the barn and end it all now. . . .)

That brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves at the airport: Loud cellphone conversations and ringers in the waiting area. You're sitting peacefully in your chair outside the gate, reading quietly when the guy two seats down from you answers his cell phone and begins carrying on a lengthy conversation--whether personal or work-related--using what we adults call his "outside voice." This happens every single time I am waiting for my flight. And it's rarely just one person anymore - it's several. I carry ear plugs for this reason. People don't seem to realize that they are yelling on their cell phones and that their loud, musical ringers are annoying. These people, too, should be taken out behind the barn and shot.

The Atlanta airport has smoking rooms - maybe all airports should consider installing cell phone rooms too. Thanks to the advent and popularity of mobile phones, there is just no peace and quiet in this world anymore. I was watering my yard twice this summer when I saw the strangest thing--a 10-year-old boy coming down the street on his skateboard, a cell phone glued to his ear.

What is this world coming to that we can no longer go five minutes without yakking on the phone? Not me, man. I hate the phone. I avoid it as much as I can. (That will change with my new job, no doubt.)

So, besides the people who use a chair in the waiting room for their bags (leaving some poor soul standing), the ones who carry oversized bags on the plane that don't fit in the overhead compartment, those that hog the whole arm rest, the people who don't put their luggage in the overhead compartment wheels-first, those who don't step aside during boarding to let others get to their seats, and the ones who keep their feet out in the aisle for you to trip over on your way to the bathroom, that's my summary of common airport etiquette violations--the same ones I can usually count on happening every time I fly.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Susie and the City" to Return!

Within two weeks I'll be back in New York. This wondrous realization prompted me to pop my Sinatra CDs in the player. Thank god I hadn't packed them yet. In the past couple weeks I managed to pack most of my belongings, stack them up in a storage unit, sell some furniture, give a bunch of stuff to charity, and still leave the house in a "lived-in" condition for showings.

I can't get out of Maryland and away from my crazy neighbors (on both sides of my townhouse) fast enough. Things have only gone from bad to worse here.

I'm desperately trying to find temporary furnished housing in Manhattan. Let me tell you, this is no easy chore. For two solid weeks I was assured that I had a studio sublet in Battery Park. The tenant kept telling me not to worry, that the apartment was definitely mine and that I could move into it in September before my job starts on October 1. She kept telling me via email that she was taking care of minor details with the building owner and that I had nothing to worry about. Her response time to emails and voice mails was snail-like, so I was in fact worried.

Last week I emailed her and told her I had started to look for a different place since she hadn't fully committed to me yet. I guess that is when she finally got serious about talking to the building people. Come to find out that she'd never actually checked with the building before posting her ad on Craigslist, and sublets aren't allowed. I just about died. And she was so nonchalant about it - despite practically ruining my life.

This was after 11pm one night. The next morning the professional figure skater who'd been telling me all month that she was going to buy my townhouse finally told me she wasn't going to make me an offer after all. And I had to drag that information out of her. She'd been stringing me along all month (just like the girl with the phantom sublet), despite not being able to afford anything near the price range of the townhouses where I live.

Double whammy.

Things continued to escalate that day and included a fight with my neighbor about her multiple covenants violations that were ruining our property values and quality of life here in the overpriced community where we live. That morning she'd paid a bunch of day laborers to put up this ugly chicken wire fence around her grass out in front of her unit - all in a vain effort to keep a ficticious dog out that was allegedly killing every square inch of her [diseased] grass.

Not only was this so-called fence--(consisting of wooden stakes and chicken wire held on with plastic cable ties)--completely against our HOA rules, but it was an eye-sore, and the idiots who installed it made a mess of my driveway. I just couldn't believe these horrible neighbors would go this far, especially after illegally cementing in their entire 30' long back yard last spring and installing a full-size basketball court for me to have to listen to and look at - something completely prohibited by our by-laws. This ugly chicken wire thing was too much.

So that day it really seemed like my life was completely falling apart. . . nothing new here in the state of Maryland, which has been unkind to me since I set foot here. But let's put that behind us and fast forward to New York!

I can't wait to get back to living amongst wonderful New Yorkers - those abrupt yet genuine folks who would do anything to help a stranger or neighbor.

Yesterday, after losing yet another wonderful sublet (this one was on Wall Street) because I couldn't physically get to it fast enough, tomorrow I am taking the train up to NY to look at some other places that are up for grabs. I have my whole day mapped out - two units downtown (John Street and then Pearl Street), followed by one on the Upper West Side (Central Park West and 97th), then back down to the East Village and Gramercy Park for two more.

As soon as I find the right place, I'll nab it on the spot (if they'll have me), and cancel the rest of my appointments. (Time for purse shopping on Canal Street, per chance?) I have high hopes for this studio on John Street - what they call a "Jr. 1BR." It's a studio apartment that has an "alcove" (as opposed to an enlcosed room) for the bed. It has an outdoor terrace (for Martin) and is on the 17th floor. It's walking distance to work (probably about 2/3 mile), and it is in a luxury doorman building like I used to live in at the Gershwin. It really would be perfect for the short term.

So, despite having lots of friends and families praying that I sell this townhouse, it hasn't quite happened yet. Maybe God has something better in mind for me - although I can't see how listing it with a realtor and paying over $25K in commissions can be considered "better" than selling it by owner and not losing nearly as much as I'm gonna lose when it lists. We'll see what happens. Wish me luck - I'm really gonna need it this week!

(And thank you for your prayers - please don't stop!)