Interview with a Craigslist scammer

Ever wondered what motivates people who swindle others on Craigslist? Read on for a fascinating look into the mind of a small-time criminal

Interview with a Craigslist scammer
Credit: Thinkstock

One of my most popular posts of all time is about sticking it to Craigslist scammers. And no wonder: I get one or two emails a week from people who have been scammed or almost scammed on Craiglist.

The victims are always upset and want my help getting the scammer arrested, which is nearly impossible. My advice is to take your misfortune as a lesson learned and get on with life, because otherwise you'll just waste energy and accomplish nothing. Craigslist has fairly good advice for avoiding scams in the first place.

I continue to use Craigslist from time to time to sell or give away items, and lately I’ve noticed a significant decrease in emails from scammers. I used to get those emails immediately, but it no longer happens every time.

So while I still could, and out of sheer curiosity, I decided to try and interview the next few scammers who contacted me. I posted several items that I really did want to sell, along with one fake item -- an expensive Harley motorcycle. I set the sale price high so that real buyers would be less likely to respond, but greedy scammers might take the bait.

I received a few replies from scammers along with a few inquiries from legitimate, interested local buyers. I responded to the legitimate inquiries telling them the item was no longer available and removed the ad. Then I sent emails to the scammers asking for anonymous interviews. I promised not to get anyone else involved and to maintain their anonymity.

Most never responded. But one wrote me back, and after some additional assurances agreed to be interviewed via a chat client I had not used before. Here is some of our interview (edited for clarity and space):

What country do you originate from?

I don’t want to answer that question.

Where do you work from: an internet café, home, etc.?

I work wherever I can. Right now I’m working in a friend's store. I don’t have a computer at home; I use my mobile. Sometimes I work from a car next to a wireless store -- I have friends working there and they share the codes. I used to work at the same place for a long time, but the owner is no longer my friend.

Do your friends know what you're doing?

Of course. ... We have bills to pay and we want the same things everyone wants and it takes money.

Can you give me a little generic background information on yourself? Did you go to school, college?

There are no universities where I live. Most people don’t go to college. We don’t have the money or the same opportunities. I went to some school, but I dropped out before the upper grades. My education is my life and the internet. My girlfriend helps with my English grammar. She went longer.

What do you think an average Craigslist scammer makes each month or year? What do you make?

Depends on how much they work and how many emails they put out. The better ones I hear about can make a lot of money. I’ve made many thousands in one week, but I don’t make that most weeks. Some weeks I make nothing. Many days I lose money. I have to do other things.

You lose money?

Depending on what you do and how you do it, it costs money whether you paid or not. Postage costs ... but also I have to pay other people to get my cut. There are a lot of pockets and everyone wants a piece. My part is less than half in the end. I used to make more, but now it takes more to make less. Some of the people I pay make more money than I do and they still complain.

Can you expand on who is involved?

No, but people. The money doesn’t appear in the air. There are people you have to deal with and they all want to be paid. Some steal from you.

What is your success rate?

If you mean how often I make money from Craigslist, it depends on the day or week. Many weeks I make nothing. Some weeks I can get five people sending me money. But I respond to a lot of ads to get one email back. I’m not only doing Craigslist -- there are many similar places. I haven’t counted, but many. It takes many emails to get paid. That’s what I mean. Some weeks I lose money. It’s harder than most people think. But I don’t have to go into a place at a certain time and deal with bosses and customers. I can make my own time.

How many hours do you think you put in per payoff?

Depends. But on average 2 to 3 hours for the ones who aren’t very suspicious. It usually takes 2 to 4 emails to get all their details to be able to send and collect the checks. Sometimes I put in a whole week of work for nothing -- or worse. The longer it takes the less likely I am to get paid, but there are surprises.

How do you know when you have a good victim?

When they don’t ask a lot of questions and want do things quickly. Sometimes they will ask one question about me and then everything else is about getting the money to them.

Do you feel guilty about taking people’s money?

Yes and no. For most people, they won’t even miss the money. It’s nothing to them. To me, it’s survival.

Are you worried about police or getting arrested?

No. I’ve gotten money from policemen and bank workers. Doctors, lawyers, universities, store owners, all of them. They don’t know me and they can never catch me. No one ever gets caught. And if I ever got caught I would pay money and walk away. That is the way of the world.

How much longer do you think you can keep doing this line of business?

It’s hard and not regular. I want a good paying, regular job. I have other small jobs, but this is too good not to do it. I don’t make enough to stop working or doing other things. I’ll probably continue as long as I can, make some decent money, and stop when I stop making money or get a better job.

Any parting words or advice for my readers?

It’s getting harder for business people like me to be successful, but if they [the victims] follow the rules it would be very hard for me to be successful. That’s one of the surprises. My friends and I thought we would not be successful for so long, especially with how Craigslist is different now. But there is always someone looking to sell something who doesn’t know the game.

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