online dating scams: craigslist

This is not a new story, but judging from response I have received from my original post, Online dating scams on Craigslist are alive and kicking.  

Here is Sams Story  

He is the nicest guy you would ever meet.  Smart, funny, and a considerate and kind individual.    He is a little shy.  He is a top web software engineer and does quite well salary-wise.  We will call him Sam and keep his identity private.  No that is not him in the picture, that’s Mikhail our online dating scammer.  We will see him often.

Craigslist purple heart Online Dating ScamSam is not originally from the U.S.A., late 20’s and apparently was been feeling lonely.   He responded to a personal ad in Craigslist casual encounters that did not turn out well.  He fell for what is a typical Craigslist dating scam – the Date Identity Verification Scam.  Sam thought he was spending $5 for an identity verification service, but ended up being charged over $120.00.

I had arranged for Sam to get his current software gig, so he confided in me his dilemma.  More on how that turned out later.

quick facts: the date verification scam

Wading in to the Craigslist Dating  Scam Swamp

This situation really violated my sense of fairness.   It was deceptive and took advantage of a person when they were vulnerable.  After dealing with the immediate problem, I became curious.  This led me to the small adventure wading thru the swamp known as Craigslist personal ads.

I have been aware for quite some time, that the odds of meeting somebody this way are slim, none, and Elvis just left the building, but I wanted some real data.  Being a “give me the facts” kind of guy, I decided to conduct a study.  I responded and tracked replies in Craigslist scam, oops, I mean, Casual Encounters section.

Here is what I did…

I replied to 100 posts – Women seeking Men.  I was selective when sending responses.  I skipped all of the easily detectable scams.

  • Some ads would be funny if it wasn’t a scam. You just have to love the “Lonely Mom” that “has no kids” or is “still a virgin”.   Other non sequiturs are too graphic to repeat, but you get the idea.
  • I used Google and a Craigslist national search site and searched a couple of sentences from the body of the ad. If I found the same post repeated across geographies, I skipped it.
  • Skipped all obvious prostitution posts, characterized by “$gift” required, “Generous Gentleman”, or something similar.

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Although I was not intending to meet anyone, all of my responses were as genuine as I could make them, albeit a bit repetitive; I tried to include something that matched what was being asked for.

The result was 100% Fail

Online Dating on Craigslist was 100% failI received 89 responses: 84 were for scam web sites; 4 hookers, and 1 phishing scam. Most scammers wanted me to sign up for a dating verification website to “prove I was safe”.  A smaller number, directed me to one of several hook-up scam websites.  The prostitutes usually sent a message, this is a pay-to-play responses. I have learned a new meaning to the phrase “Friends with Benefits”.

As to the 11 non-responses, we will never know.  I have learned that due to the repetitive use of my burner email in responding, the Craigslist relay program does always forward my response.

The Typical Craigslist Dating Scam Profile

All of the website scams start with asking for your email. This is done by the scammer providing their email, and asking you to respond there. Surely, it is a reasonable request and first step if you actually want to meet someone.

Psycho-killers need not apply…

Next you get an email about how much she wants to meet you, this is crazy, how she has never done this before, is horny, and so on, but needs to know you are not a psycho killer… So here is a link to sign up to “scam date verification” website.  Sometimes the second email is a tease, and “she” tells you a little about herself and will send you another shortly; the scam site comes in a third email.

It can cost you a bundle…

In Sam’s case, the advertised site charge was small – $4.95.  However, the fine print signed him up for two other subscription based websites at $29.95 per month each.    I researched a handful of sites that I received from my potential “date”.  They all were the same scam:  “cheap” or “free” that had other fees in the fine print.

At this point, I would discontinue contact with the scammer.  After (me) not responding to their email, some sent an email to sign up for another ‘free’ site.  A couple of them sent me an email to down load a messenger program.  I didn’t click on the link – all should be aware that this would be an easy path to get infected with some sort of malware.

Get a Job

your sexy woman is a robot

Your robot doesn’t look like this

The Craigslist scammer does not, or cannot read your response.  You are corresponding with a program (commonly referred to as a “Bot”) or person running a script.  The person pushing the buttons probably does not understand English.  To have a little fun, I responded to one with a line from the Everlast song, “What its Like.”  I said “get a job  you f*#!ing slob.”  To which, the scammer replied, “Yes you are making me horny too.  I can’t wait, just sign up here at (scam website.com) and send me your logon so I know you’re safe.”  (I don’t advise doing this BTW.)

Most of the scams become obvious quickly.  Aside from a predictable pattern, other signs that you are dealing with a Craigslist scammer include:

  • Varied email address: They ask you to send an email to one address, but the response comes from another address.
  • Time Stamp: when exchanging emails directly, I sometimes noticed that the time stamp from the scammer’s email server was 11 hours off. That puts the senders’ server in Russia, China, India or Kazakhstan.  Talk about a long distance relationship!
  • If you are a real geek  you can look at the email header for a masked email address. (Yahoo and Gmail detect these and put them right in the spam folder.)

Bad English is another common sign, but for the most part, my robots were no more less articulate than you would find in a casual email.

Women for Men: Almost all were Online Dating Scams

So in this admittedly unscientific survey, 89% of the ads, and 100% of replies were fraudulent in some way. If you take in to consideration, that I skipped 3 or so for every one I responded to, then 98-99% of all posts in Craigslist Casual Encounters are scams, at least in the Women for Men section.

Sam had a happy ending

No, not the massage parlor kind, he got most of his money back.  Sam had knowingly signed up for a $4.95 identity verification service.  He was surprised to see two additional charges on his credit card statement of $29.95 each.

He back tracked his online steps and found out what had happened.  He tried to unsubscribe, however the “service” to unsubscribe at the website wasn’t responsive, and he was charged for a second month.  Sam wasn’t sure what to do.  This is when he confided in me.

In my day job, I work at a large bank designing and building computer systems.  I have a lot of knowledge about retail bank operations.   I told him to call the bank and dispute the charges.  Fortunately, the customer service person at the bank was familiar with these sort scams and reversed all of the $29.95 charges on the card without hassle.  I also advised Sam to cancel and get a new card, just in case someone in Kazakhstan had his card number.  Sam was lucky, he did not end up as one of the online dating horror stories.

quick facts:  disputing the credit card charge

Free dating sites – if you really want to use one  

I am not a fan of using Craigslist or any of the other dating sites for that matter.  It works for some, but in today’s digital swipe left/right culture, if you don’t look like Chris Hemsworth, swipe left happens in a few seconds.  Rather, I think one should spend time developing the social skills and confidence in meeting and attracting a partner.  Thats a story for another day.   That said, CL is an incredibly convenient forum, and if you really want to use Craigslist, or any other dating site, or hook-up app, here are some recommendations to help weed out the scams:

  • Just Google it. Search for the text within the ad.  If it comes up in in another site, that’s a red flag.
  • National Craigslist Search.  If you are responding to any post or ad in Craigslist this search will show if the person has posted in multiple cities.  Often a scammer posts in several geographies in a short time period and Google bots haven’t found them yet.   There are several of these searches.  I will be building one for convenience of Ronin readers in the future.
  • Reverse Image Search with TinEye.  TinEye has an incredibly powerful image search algorithm.  (Check out the Fair Trade Logo Search in the Collection Results.)   If your “date” has “borrowed” a picture, TinEye can find it even if it has been heavily modified or cropped.
  • Use a disposable (burner) email that does not have your full name in the profile. The email program passes this to Craigslist, and the email relay passes that on to the receiver.
  • Never Confront. If the scammer knows how you detected them, they can change their tactic and are harder to detect.  Besides, you never know who is on the other side of it, and if by chance they have your email and can associate it with a name, you just don’t need that.
  • Keep your Anti-Virus Software up-to-date.  As always, this is S.O.P.

Elvis Leaving the buildingI hope this has given you a few tips to use online dating websites, because it can happen anywhere.  Samuel Axon on Mashable.com, had a similar experience 5 years ago.  It doesn’t look like much has changed on Craigslist.      I have some recommendations for what Craigslist can do about all the dating scams, but I will save that for another time.

So that is it.  I tried to find a real person for a month and could not. I probably would have done better hanging out at the bus station looking for strays and runaways.  I will continue to respond to some, just to keep the pulse of what the Online Dating Scams are up to.  I do believe that I have bumped in to one or two real people since then.  So they are out there, I am just not sure it is worth you spending any time there.

Would  you like to  contribute and maybe even help others?  We have a survey that would be tremendously helpful.  If you could take the survey here that would be greatly appreciated.

What has been your experience on free dating websites?  What is the funniest ad you have seen?

Be Safe

Ronin Eternales


Resources

Federal Trade Commission – Disputing Credit Card Charges

Seven Days on Craigslist Casual Encounters by Samuel Axon

Image Credits

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5 thoughts on “online dating scams: craigslist

    • Thank you for the comment. It is definitely true that the older generation are the targets of the romance scams. That is where the money is. On the other side of it, I am surprised by the number of younger folks that do not practice basic safety in their online dealings.

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