Does Craigslist’s anonymity enable those with criminal intent?

By | September 15th, 2016

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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  • AAGK

    L has a criminal issue, not really a consumer issue. I understand she wanted to cover her bases and I don’t blame her for reaching out to Elliott advocates. She has recourse. She can contact Craigslist and it will remove the post. She needs to click on the law enforcement criminal posting option and someone from CL will reply to her. However, that will only lead to a take down so no one else is duped. eBay is not involved as it sold her gift cards and she received them. Transaction over.
    She needs to file a police report and if the DA wants to pursue this, this DA will subpoena the contact info of the thief and arrange arrest. However, this will not necessarily lead to a refund. A judge may order restitution and she still may not get paid. She needs to call the police and let things play out from there. Once the thief is identified, she can also sue him in civil court.
    Craigslist will be happy to take the post down to protect others as well as comply with any law enforcement requests. It will not send personal info to random strangers about other users and rightfully so. L has no lawful motive for this info.

  • Jeff W.

    Your article is spot on. The OP ignored common sense in so many ways, Craigslist and/or eBay have no way of knowing if the OP is also a scammer.

    The first person to contact is not a consumer advocate, but law enforcement. Problem is she lives in NC and the person who was selling the truck may or may not live in Omaha. May not even be in Nebraska. Could even be Russian hackers. Which law enforcement agency is going to take ownership of this?

    The eBay gift card numbers may have been passed around and not the same person who created the Craigslist post

  • Hanope

    I can’t understand buying a vehicle several states away in the first place. Something wrong with every used car dealer in NC? Or look for ads in local papers for individuals selling vehicles.

  • sirwired

    Neither Craigslist or eBay is in a position to help her.

    Craigslist is nothing more than the electronic equivalent of classified ads in the newspaper (which also were anonymous.) They promise nothing, and deliver nothing.

    And as the article said, eBay is not a judicial system. For all they know, she sold the gift cards, collected payment, and now wants to yank the cards back. (I’m not saying this is true, just that eBay is in no position to have any idea.)

  • sirwired

    Well, the vehicle was being purchased on behalf of her son in Omaha. But that said, yeah, buying a used car from some random person on Craigslist sight-unseen was never going to end well.

    (Heck, buying a truck for a measly $1,500, in person, is fraught with peril. It’s a game of figuring out WHY it’s so cheap, and if you can live with whatever is wrong with it to bring it down to that level.)

  • Rebecca

    Consider me dumbfounded. I’m dumbfounded on a few fronts here. One, that she sent money, sight unseen, via gift card, to purchase a vehicle in another state. Two, that she thinks Craigslist has the sellers info, all they have is an email address. Third, that she thinks eBay would just say, sure, no problem, and rescind $1500 in gift cards. Dumbfounded.

  • Annie M

    Just when you think you’ve heard it all.

  • FQTVLR

    Those with criminal intent are encouraged both by the anonymity afforded by the internet as well as by the naivete of many people buying and selling on the internet.

  • Michael__K

    eBay’s General Terms say that:

    Lost, stolen or damaged Gift Cards will only be replaced if the Gift Card has never been used, and only with satisfactory proof of purchase and Gift Card number, where required by law.

    So she had a reason to try. I’d like to believe the only reason they couldn’t help her was because the cards were already used. I hope eBay wasn’t ignoring her purely on the basis that the laws in her state don’t compel them to.

  • C Schwartz

    CL has a section on avoiding scams — here it is block copied:
    Deal locally, face-to-face —follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.

    Do not extend payment to anyone you have not met in person.
    Beware offers involving shipping – deal with locals you can meet in person.
    Never wire funds (e.g. Western Union) – anyone who asks you to is a scammer.
    Don’t accept cashier/certified checks or money orders – banks cash fakes, then hold you responsible.
    Transactions are between users only, no third party provides a “guarantee”.
    Never give out financial info (bank account, social security, paypal account, etc).
    Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen—that amazing “deal” may not exist.
    Refuse background/credit checks until you have met landlord/employer in person.

    The bold and highlighted color is from CL. not mine.

    I hope the OP contacts the police but I suspect that it will hard to track down the person that did it.

  • Privacy hawks to the contrary, too much anonymity in business is a more dangerous thing in the real world than revealing specific needed information about yourself to a business. One of the main reasons that people prefer Uber to medallion taxi services is that every rider is as much a registered member of the system as every driver. Uber drivers won’t be hailed by a cash customer and then left bleeding to death in some bad neighborhood because the identity and service time of every rider is centrally logged, and neither can a rogue driver get away with abusing a customer.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Those eBay gift cards were probably used within minutes so that the funds will be gone. A few years ago, I attended a workshop on gift card fraud…it is unbelievable what the scammers are doing.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It is my guess that the truck was listed with ‘low’ mileage and/or in excellent mechanical condition to draw people in. I know someone that recently purchased a $ 1,500 truck locally and it had high mileage and needed several repairs.

  • Bill___A

    Sometimes, people do things that are extremely difficult to help them with. However, it may serve as a warning to others, even though there is unfortunately not much help for recovery of the money.

  • marathon man

    100% agreed.

    First few lines of the story where she sent ebay gc numbers to someone she didn’t know and I kinda stopped reading. DO NOT DO THAT! Contact the police and sure, ask Craigslist to remove the post and be more watchful of such people as those who would post it, but that’s about all you can do.

  • JewelEyed

    She’d also have to prove they were lost, stolen, or damaged. Which is basically impossible in this case.

  • AAGK

    Easy. She contacts her local police department. To the extent that it involves a crime accross state lines, it may contact the FBI and a US attorney may do the investigation or the local DA. These are the folks who will know how to proceed and have the power to subpoena info. There is very little work for the LW other than to speak with a detective. The postal inspector may also get involved. There are ample resources all she needs to do is dial 911 and let everyone do their job.

  • AAGK

    No. She didn’t sell gift cards on the Internet, nor did the car seller. That wouldn’t apply. She purchased gift cards on EBay (any seller who would take anything other than cash for this transaction is an idiot and obviously fake). She didn’t try the right way with CL. She should have made the complaint through the process where she selects harassment, or criminal activity as that’s what occurred. CL would reply to her. eBay had a successful transaction with her. eBay is a dreadful company anyway. She has so many avenues at her disposal to seek resolution, and that it may not include money. If I give money to a anonymous stranger on the hope he pays me back, that doesn’t mean the business where I encountered this person is responsible.

  • AAGK

    No kidding. However I’m sure this seller pulled this before and CL has records of his other posts. Or law enforcement can subpoena the info from Gmail or whatever. I sold something on CL once. There is some verification. It may all be a dead end. The DA can also compel eBay to reveal what was purchased on the gift cards. Only law enforcement has the investigative tools. Either way, that’s the only way for her to proceed. We all agree the money is gone.

  • AAGK

    I like this perspective. There’s a major lesson here for readers and I’m super glad Jessica wrote this article.

  • joycexyz

    Scams on Craigslist work the other way too. The alleged buyer wants to send the seller a check for more than the amount asked, and then wants the seller to refund the excess amount. Bad check, bye-bye refund, and, often, bye-bye merchandise. My husband has sold a few things on Craig’s List and has experienced this approach, which he declines. Cash only! Unfortunately, we live in a world where trust is exploited.

  • joycexyz

    I think we know by now that people don’t read rules. Or think they don’t apply to them.

  • Michael__K

    That’s not what eBay’s General Terms for Gift Cards (which I quoted) state.

  • Michael__K

    Who said she “sold gift cards on the Internet” and how would you know if the car seller did or didn’t re-sell the cards on the internet and why is that relevant?

    I quoted eBay’s General Terms for Gift Cards. Why wouldn’t their own terms and conditions apply?

    http://pages.ebay.com/giftcard/terms_conditions.html

  • AAGK

    Are you talking about eBay? I thought you meant craigslist! Of course she should have immediately contacted eBay to deactivate them and have them reissued to her address. Anyone using them to purchase a car would have taken pictures or recorded the codes- she saved it in her sent mail. I’m assuming she did this and it was too late, the cards had zero balance by then.

  • AAGK

    Also, the first question the police will ask her is if she was purchasing a car in another state for her son, why on earth would she not provide the money/gift cards to Son rather than stranger. Unless she can answer this to anyone’s satisfaction then they may investigate her.

  • Hanope

    Ah, I missed the part where the son, the intented recipient of the truck, lived in Omaha. In that case, she should have had her son contact the seller to inspect the truck before purchase. Then, she could give the gift card info to her son to give to the seller.

  • Michael__K

    Yes, eBay. The article says she contacted eBay and received “no response.”

  • sirwired

    Really, the “Pay with eBay gift cards” was already a tip-off. There’s zero legit reasons to ask for, or accept, payment this way. (As a seller, you don’t want to accept gift cards as payment because if they were purchased with stolen credit cards, they’ll be invalidated.)

    If I was selling a truck for a measly $1,500, all I would accept would be a stack of cash. Everything else is just too much of a pain to verify.

  • gpx21dlr

    Wanda, you made so many errors with this purchase. I have to say you fulfilled the statement: There is a sucker born every minute.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    How can people be so naive

  • Rebecca

    Almost certainly they immediately used the funds, more likely than not they laundered them through another stranger they conned. I have a decent amount of experience in corporate fraud, and they normally use the $1500 in gift cards as part of another, even more elaborate scam. The most likely scenario, that I saw the most of, involves them greatly overpaying for something and then having cash wired. They make up some bs story, for example, they’re in the military overseas, they need to pay with gift cards because they received them for whatever sob story, stupid reason, and need the cash wired for the difference. I would bet money they’re overseas. This type of fraud almost always involves someone in another country, as there’s almost zero chance of actually being prosecuted, as no one from any federal government agency will go to great lengths for a $1500 fraud. It literally has to be in the millions for the federal government to even look at it.

    Even if it is discovered who was paid with the original gift cards, that person is almost certainly another scam victim. It certainly isn’t their fault that they were paid with a fraudulent gift card. Should they have known better? Of course. But that doesn’t make them liable, thus, even if she was miraculously able to contact her local law enforcement and somehow discover that person’s identity, she still isn’t getting her money back.

  • Michael__K

    All good points which I don’t dispute. But I think eBay should have provided her with a courtesy response and explained that the card was already used, if that was the case.

  • C Schwartz

    Sigh, I know. I just posted that to show that craigslist tries to warn people. Did the son ever see the truck? Why not send the son the money to buy a vehicle himself?

  • pauletteb

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why ANYONE uses Craigslist.

  • JewelEyed

    Really? Then how would you know someone isn’t just scamming somebody by claiming the card they gave away or traded to someone was stolen to get the money back? That seems sketchy.

  • Rebecca

    I agree about the response 100%. There’s no reason they couldn’t send something acknowledging her email and apologizing for not being able to help further.

  • Michael__K

    Well, if someone bought or traded a second-hand gift card with someone they don’t know and trust, through a channel which does not offer purchase protections, then wouldn’t the same posters who are telling the OP they are out of luck here, tell that individual they are out of luck too?

    Anyway, it wouldn’t be hard for eBay/Paypal to confirm the identity of the purchaser they are replacing a lost/stolen gift card for, in case there is a fraud claim against that person later.

  • Altosk

    It’s handy when you want to sell some unwanted furniture. That clientle is usually pretty safe to deal with, but I wouldn’t ever sell electronics on it.

  • Tricia K

    Our local sheriff’s department now offers supervised exchanges (both parties have to go to the sheriff’s office and a sheriff will join them either inside or in the parking lot) for purchases on Craig’s List or other such transactions. After a few stories where people were injured meeting a potential buyer (who only intended to rob the seller) on their own, they decided this would be a good service to offer. I haven’t heard much follow up on whether people are using it or not. I am not big on the whole concept of Craig’s List, but my daughter and her friends have sold a lot on the platform. A couple who were buying bedroom furniture from my daughter suggested to her that meeting strangers in your apartment isn’t a good idea. I agree.

  • AAGK

    I hate eBay.

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