In the days of the print version of classified advertising, each local newspaper took the responsibility of reviewing advertising for acceptance. Very few people realized that many newspapers rejected advertising if it was of a suspicious nature. In the U.S., a popular scam occurred in the early 70’s when an advertiser prepaid an ad offering information when the reader sent $1. This ad permeated throughout newspapers around the country, and as residents sent their money, they of course, received nothing in return. After a lengthy lawsuit the parties were found guilty of collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars. This became the first major alert to newspapers for potential fraud within the classified advertising realm.
Technology has brought about an easier method of communication so that individuals can made remote arrangements using net-based payment methods and exchange of information. One of the sites that has brought about the most problems has been ‘Craigslist’, which acts as simply a platform and allows anyone to post and respond. The website has come under fire due to the lack of restrictions which has allowed everything from human trafficking to the sale of illegal weapons. When a face-to-face meeting in Connecticut, USA led to a murder, the public became aware of the true dangers. The results have been that government security agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are constantly monitoring the website.
The mere personal philosophy of offering a base for individuals to exchange information on a deep level has been a major interest for those that want to escalate fraudulent activities. The use of today’s net, mobile, and tablet based email and payment methods gives a scammer the opportunity to communicate, tell their story, make a financial request and prey on unsuspecting people. Under the guise of a standard ad offering, this shifts the control away from any publication for monitoring and places the decision to move forward in the hands of the person making a purchase. This is the perfect platform for scam operations and once the deal is done, it is often too late; personal information has been given, bank accounts or credit cards are accessed and the only way to make an alert is to process a report to the publication and/or Better Business Bureau style organization. By that time, the scammer has moved on to another classified ad location.
These circumstances do not mean that a majority of the classified ads are not safe, but instead should be used with caution as a ‘reader beware’ concept. There are ways to identify potential scams and a number of signals that should be a ‘red flag’ alert. Many of the fraudulent activities begin with a ‘story’ that is designed to lure the prospect in, followed by a request for money.
- Only Deal With Local Individuals and Meet Face-To-Face: Always take another person with you in a face-to-face meeting and make sure that you arrange to meet in a public place.
- A Telephone Conversation First: If the individual(s) refuse a telephone conversation, this is an alert for a potential scam.
- Payment Methods Need to be Safe: Refuse to use any wire transfer payment requirement or a preloaded debit card. If you are selling an item, cashier’s checks as well as certified checks or money orders can be counterfeit.
- Steer Clear of Purchasing or Renting without Seeing the Property: Many scammers list other people’s property and seem legitimate as they request background check information. This gives them your personal data. Always do a check to ensure ownership and that someone else isn’t already residing in the location.
- Validate Job Offers: Some of today’s employers will request background checks but this is always done in relation with their Human Resources Dept. Check the company website and make a personal phone call to the company to verify.
- Stock Photos are too Easy: If you are purchasing an item, request an up-to-date picture. Stock photos are easily accessible on the net.
- Search the net for potential fraud: If something sounds too good, it is probably a scam. Do a search to check on the possibility of a scam.
- Never click on links that have been emailed to you by the contact. Deadly information can be embedded in a link that can open your device for access.
- Report any suspicious activity to the publication and the authorities: Most of the publications have protocols set in place for scam reporting. Since many of these are occurring over multiple continents, the FBI and CIA in the United States are set to not only monitor but take control of the investigation. Some local governments may/may not have professionals in place but work in conjunction with high level authorities.
Mobile, Computer and Tablet Access
The ability to send viruses in emails and links has become one of the most popular methods of getting personal information. Tablets, laptops and desktops were at one time the main target of cyber criminals, but they are now also focusing on mobile phones. The same type of caution should be used for phones as have been used in the past for desktop and laptop computers: do not click on links or open a document.
The increased use of mobile phones for almost everything on the net has opened the dam for cyberattacks that not only allow access to the phone, but gives them the ability to see the various apps used, including banking and credit cards for e-commerce. Their ability to ‘unlock’ a phone has led to a new level of cybercrime and requires an enhanced concept of the ‘buyer beware’ syndrome.
The elevation of this form of fraudulent activity has been addressed by a number of mobile phone protection software methods. These are typically downloaded to your phone and will give the user control over a number of technology variables. The first and most important is the ability to take a picture of any individual that types in the wrong password or pin number. Using the front-facing camera on the phone and sending it to a common location (such as Dropbox). Some have a GPS tracker to locate the criminal and this information is used when you make your report to the authorities. The user can make use of a ‘screen lock’ option, locking access to the phone. Some of the software programs are free, while others have a nominal fee and not all functions work on all types of mobile phones.
Classified Ads Can Be Successful with Common Sense
As in the days of print advertising, classified ads have always been a way for people to sell, purchase and make exchanges. The same ‘common sense’ rules that were used in the past need to be implemented in the technology age.
If a deal feels wrong with a request for an unusual circumstance, especially for personal information and the demand for money, it is a ‘red flag alert’ for the consumer to be accountable to protect yourself. The addition of phone security software can be another way to ensure safety as well as diligence in knowing that there is always a potential for cybercrime if you are not vigilant.