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 Vol 10|No4|April |2014

Questioning the Email

by Jamie McKenzie (about author)

sugarIf you have ever tried to sell something on Craigslist, you soon discovered
that some of the emails you received were from scammers.
During this era, everyone must learn to question the emails that flow into their inboxes. Some are spam, some are scams and others are completely authentic and legitimate.

How do we tell the true from the false?

Because many scam artists are clever, they will keep inventing new ways to appear genuine, even though they may be sending out thousands of scamming emails each day and have little time for intimacy or personalized exchanges.

There are no simple rules to follow because the game keeps changing. This article will suggest a half dozen strategies that will prove useful, but success will depend on the reader being even more clever than the scammer.


Even though there are many places on the Web that will generate fraudulent emails, this article will focus especially upon Craigslist, as the strategies that will work there will also help the reader to cope with scams from other sources such as the phishing emails that arrive posing as legitimate businesses wanting you to update your account information - schemes intended to steal your identity and your money.


In case you were wondering, when I sent an email to the address shown earlier, they sent back the response above. Typical scam. They want to send check. No face to face. Check will bounce.

Six Strategies to Question Emails on Craigslist (or wherever)

Strategy One - Read the warnings on Craigslist.

Craigslist is quite clear about ways to protect yourself. They provide a very detailed list of scams at It includes examples of scam emails. It suggests ways to protect yourself at

Their number one rule: DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON—follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.

Strategy Two - Remember how real people write when they are local and interested.

Scammers try to send chatty, normal messages, but there is almost always something "off" about the language they use. If you think about it, normal people usually do not disclose personal telephone numbers or emails until the 3rd or 4th message when they have asked a few questions about the item and checked to see if you really are local and real. Scammers will try to imitate this like the email above, when they begin with, "do you still have the item?" It is a stupid question, since most people delete the item when they sell it. Or maybe they will ask, "What's your lowest price?" And then include an email address which always looks "off." The message up at the top of this article included an email address of When I wrote them, they wrote back with with the personal name showing next to the email "Janet Miller." Trying to seem like just plain folks. But just plain folks don't write something like, "I need you to be honest with the sale as I am a God fearing person."

Strategy Three - Be on the lookout for sob stories.

Many scammers will send messages that include very deep personal problems and issues that real people do not share with strangers. The higher the price of the item, the more trouble they may take to seem local through 3-4 messages, and then just when you think the deal if closed there will be a terrible illness or death in the family that means they will have to send a check and a son or brother-in-law or some other person to do the pick-up. Some of these scammers are young people sitting in Romanian Internet cafés, according to a report in the Huffington Post.

Strategy Four - If it is too good to be true, it probably isn't.

If you're trying to sell a car and you know your first asking price is above book value, most real people will check book value and want to see the car before making an offer. The same is true with valuable china, furniture, art and other items. Real Craigslist buyers are almost always looking for bargains. If you paid $700 for an old Chinese chest like the one in the picture to the right, they hope to buy it for $300 or $150. A scammer will agree to your price without even examining the item.

An expert collector from far away will ask for a dozen photographs showing every detail and flaw before they may drive three hours with cash to pick up the item. Scammers don't really care and only make a few feeble attempts to act normal before they scurry on to some easier "mark." In confidence games, the target of a scam is called "the mark."

Target, prey, quarry, game, kill

chump, dupe, fool, gull, patsy, sap, con game



Strategy Five - Watch out for lazy patterns and bad grammar.

Many scammers rely on a cut-and-paste strategy to contact you with almost no personalization of the message. This is because they may generate thousands of messages a day. They are betting on the percentages. Maybe 4997 recipients will delete them without much thought. But three marks can "make their day." The lazy message and bad grammar should set off an alarm. There may be legitimate buyers with bad English grammar who are recent arrivals in the USA, but a few questions will quickly help you to figure out their authenticity. A simple message like "face-to-face and cash only" will end most exchanges with scammers.

Strategy Six - Ask lots of questions

Scammers have very little patience for questions, especially unusual questions that do not fit typical scripts. They want to copy-and-paste their way through these exchanges and see little profit in intimate exchanges.


In the week following my writing the section above, I moved to the Philippines and was using Craigslist to help identify an apartment to rent. Everything seemed fine until I ran across an ad for an amazingly luxurious apartment in a fantastic building at a ridiculously low monthly price.

It was simply too good to be true.

But tantalizing. So I sent a series of three emails over the next twelve hours asking to visit the apartment that day. No response until late that evening from someone claiming to be a doctor in the UK who owns the unit. By then we had visited the building and looked at model apartments. Fabulous but out of our price range. When I told the manager the ad was asking just 35,000 PHP a month, he said most times it would be 65,000 PHP or more for a two bedroom apartment. He was incredulous, so I became suspicious.

When the email arrived, the story seemed unbelievable and the grammatical errors were totally unlikely from a doctor in the UK. Whoever wrote the email was not well educated in English. So I wrote and asked for the unit number on the 11th floor so I could authenticate his ownership. Not surprisingly, he never replied. He was setting up a fairly commonplace Craigslist scam that involves money transfers from a distance.



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