Scammers score payday on Craigslist, according to study


You can never be too careful when it comes to Craigslist. Many people have been taken advantage of, robbed and even killed as a result of meeting people to buy or sell their used items through the site. Still, for so many others, it has been a great way to find something at a great deal, or to sell something and get the most money possible for it.

But when it comes to the online listings, is Craigslist really able to keep scammers and fraudsters from using the site? 

Read more: The fake IRS phone scam is back!

Study: Rentals are particularly dangerous

A study done by researchers at the University of Maryland, New York University and Cornell University found that over half of fraudulent real estate rental ads were not flagged for removal by Craiglist, which means these ads were available for unsuspecting victims to happen upon them — doing great damage to them, and their wallets. 

‘By the tens of thousands of ads that we found, [the scammers] are clearly successful at making money,’ said Damon McCoy, an assistant professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at New York University, an author of the study.

The study, whose other authors included Youngsam Park of the University of Maryland and Elaine Shi of Cornell University, is to be presented at the Financial Cryptography and Data Security conference in Barbados this coming week.

Though Craigslist didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment on this issue, the website warns users to be suspicious of ads that involve wiring funds over Western Union, and says face-to-face transactions in public are best. 

The researchers looked at IP addresses, common bank account numbers, e-mail addresses and other similarities within the ads to try to detect legitimate ads from fake ones. 

Then, they wrote a bot that automatically reached out to advertisers, inquiring about their listings. But soon, the fraudsters were on to them.

‘At some point, the scammers got wise to us and they began changing the template,’ McCoy said. 


Most common Craigslist rental scams

These are some of the common schemes that McCoy and his team discovered.

  • Credit reports. A scammer posts a counterfeit rental ad and then directs the person applying to pay for a credit report. The crook gets a commission if the victim pays for the report. 
  • Real listings from other sites. Another common scam used listings from other rental sites, but changed the prices to below-market value. The researchers discovered many of the scammers were from Nigeria, though some were located in the U.S.
  • Rent-to-own or pre-foreclosure properties. These listings included properties that weren’t actually available or at ‘too good to be true’ prices.

In all, the authors of the study discovered that 47% of the rental ads that were most likely scams were not flagged by Craigslist, and of those that were, it took Craiglist a long time to remove them. Some listings stayed up for 20 hours or more, which would have been a copious amount of time to catch any unwitting victims. 

‘It’d be great to work with them and try to improve the situation,’ said McCoy.

Read more: Man scams thousands of dollars from women on Tinder

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