Does Craigslist’s anonymity enable those with criminal intent?

Wanda Lockamy wanted to buy a truck on Craigslist for its advertised price of $1,500. The seller provided a link with photos of the truck and recommended she pay with eBay gift cards “for her protection.”

It turns out protection was something she would need.

Lockamy bought three $500 eBay gift cards and emailed the gift card numbers to the seller as requested. Then the seller asked her to send an additional $1,000 “for insurance.”

That’s when Lockamy knew she’d been had.

Lockamy wants our help in getting her money back from the scam artist, whose identity might be known to Craigslist or eBay — or both. Lockamy’s case underscores the importance of being vigilant when using sites like Craigslist, and leaves us wondering what recourse, if any, is available to victims of scams like this one.

Unfortunately, Lockamy broke all the common sense rules that help prevent this type of fraud from occurring in the first place. Lockamy had no in-person contact with the seller, and hadn’t actually seen the truck. In fact, Lockamy lives in North Carolina, but was arranging for the truck purchase for her son, who lives in Omaha.

Craigslist is intended to be a site for exchanges between local buyers and sellers. So Lockamy’s use of the Omaha Craigslist site for a long-distance vehicle purchase was risky from the start.

But even if she also lived in Omaha, seeing the truck in person is an important step in a vehicle purchase. Lockamy should have met with the seller in a well-lit, public place like a police station to inspect the truck. In addition to ensuring the truck actually exists, it would have also allowed her to get a good look at the truck to spot problems that hadn’t been evident in photos.

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Before any exchange of funds takes place, it’s smart to gather information about the seller as well as important information about the truck, like the Vehicle Identification Number. The VIN allows a would-be buyer to verify damage reports and current mileage on the vehicle.

But let’s imagine all of that happened, and checked out. Craigslist provides a list of red flags for its users, and strongly advises against use of third-party payment sites, in particular when the reason for using them is to “protect” the buyer.

When Lockamy purchased eBay gift cards and gave the gift card numbers to the seller, instead of protecting her purchase, she was actually providing more or less untraceable currency to the scam artist with no collateral.

Lockamy laments that she never got the truck she paid for. And there’s a good chance there was never a truck to begin with.

She says she contacted Craigslist and eBay for information on the seller, but that she has gotten “no response from anybody.” Specifically, she complains that eBay “knows who used the gift cards, and where.”

Although I regret the circumstances that led to Lockamy asking for our help, and it may seem obvious that eBay knows who used the gift cards, she is confusing a massive multinational company with law enforcement.

eBay would have no way of knowing that the giving of gift cards was done for any reason other than giving a gift. eBay cannot serve as judge, jury and executioner in a case that has not been reported to actual law enforcement.

And although it’s true that eBay might be in a position to identify Lockamy’s scam artist, eBay is simply not in the business of determining whether Lockamy or her gift card recipient is telling the truth. eBay’s privacy policy prohibits it from revealing information about its customers to other customers, except in compliance with a court order.

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Lockamy must file a police report, providing all the identifying information she has in the way of a phone number, email address and the entire paper trail, which will allow law enforcement to issue search warrants to Craigslist and eBay. Both companies comply with court ordered information requests, which is the proper method to obtain information about and prosecute the theft.

If Lockamy reports her case to law enforcement quickly, there is likely sufficient forensic electronic evidence to solve her case. Convincing law enforcement that it’s a case worth pursuing may be a bigger challenge — and the reason why we have to move this to our Case Dismissed file.

Should platforms like Craigslist be allowed to offer anonymity to users?

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

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