WANTED: People to kick me in the nuts and take my stuff

A certain subset of the Craigslist user base has a well-documented lack of reasoning skills. This may explain why all you have to do to get someone's house completely ransacked by a bunch of freeloaders is post a Craigslist ad that says something like:

"I, John Smith of 123 Acacia Avenue, Chickenmilk, Wisconsin, am aghast about the cancelling of the Bionic Woman TV series, and will be setting myself on fire this afternoon to protest it. So I've no further use for any of my possessions. Come and get them! Everything's free! If the house is locked, just break a window!"

The first time this happened was a year ago. That ad was apparently placed by a disgruntled recently-evicted tenant. The ad only survived for about an hour and a half, but that was long enough to attract plenty of avaricious house-wreckers to thoroughly trash the joint in question.

This second example has a bit more meat to it. Apparently this time the ad was posted by a couple of people who'd stolen some stuff from one Robert Salisbury's house a few days before. Then they decided to cover their tracks with the fake-ad scam, inviting other random people to steal everything else - including a horse, about which the scammers posted a separate ad.

The perpetrators of the Salisbury scam have now been caught. But the only reason that happened was because, with the idiocy so characteristic of the amateur criminal, they used their own highly traceable computer to post the ad.

If I were them, I would have posted the ad from an Internet cafe. Or, for extra evil points, from some poor suburban sucker's open wireless access point. I just checked to see if Craigslist accepts Mailinator addresses - yes, it does!

Malicious ads themselves are not new. The classic example is an ad for a brand new Porsche for only a hundred bucks, allegedly placed by a wife whose husband cheated, or something. Such ads have been filling victims' weekends with phone calls and irate visitors for many years.

If you're posting a malicious ad just about anywhere but Craigslist, though - in the newspaper, for instance, or on eBay - then you'd have to pay for it somehow. That payment can often be traced.

But Craigslist ads are free.

This no doubt accounts for the host of other scams that pop up, however briefly, all over the site.

(I've never actually used Craiglist for anything, so I might have missed something obvious that makes this scam harder to pull off. Tell me in the comments if I have.)

The interesting part about this sort of hoax/scam is that it has two levels of perpetrator. The main perps are the people who post the malicious ad; the secondary perps are the people who then come and take everything, in good faith or not.

I wonder if you could pull off the same scam without using the magic anonymous Internet - by, for instance, sticking flyers on telegraph poles around the neighborhood, or dropping leaflets in letter boxes?

Various commentators have remarked on people reading the Craigslist ad who apparently figured "it's on the Internet, so it must be true"; some of them brought printouts of the ad to wave at poor Mr Salisbury when he was trying to stop them driving off with his belongings.

You're never going to go broke by underestimating the intelligence of Internet users, so I'm quite sure some of those people were entirely sincere. But I think many of the people just figured the ad made a good excuse for what they were doing.

11 Responses to “WANTED: People to kick me in the nuts and take my stuff”

  1. Coderer Says:

    I've only used Craigslist once or twice, but IIRC they have a "report suspicious ad" link that I can only assume works in a semi-autonomous fashion (e.g., accrue X red flags and the ad gets pulled for review). It's similar to the "self-policing" of (God help us) Wikipedia or certain blog comment engines. I'm surprised it took fully an hour and a half, considering the volume of traffic Craigslist handles, for such ads to get red-flagged.

    It's not a perfect system, I suppose, but I can't really think of a better one.

  2. Jax184 Says:

    This seems like a great way to burgle a home. Post a fake Craigslist ad from a net cafe, then get to the house quickly to be near the front of the crowd so you can take the things you want! The odds of being tracked down among the ~150 other people should be a lot lower than if you just went at it on your own.

  3. jwaddell Says:

    The Snopes page for the $50 Porsche says that story has been around since 1948!

  4. corinoco Says:

    You don't need Intarwebs to do this.

    A telegraph pole (or about 50 of them) do quite nicely in logical, rationally-minded Sydney.

    Now, this is just something I heard and I was no-where near it at the time, had nothing to do with it, don't know the people involved etc...

    But back in the The Day, or around 1989, a whole year before I got a fancy e-mail account at UNSW, a certain cricket team had it's Saturday match interupted by the State's Finest. The Police were there because of a noise complaint - a person living next to the oval had called to complain of the incessant noise of leather on willow, and the police were required to act. The git had called quite a lot, apparently, threatened to call their buddy in State Parliament, etc. In a massive breach of police protocol, they told members of the cricket team exactly what house the call came from. The two teams and umpires conferred, and declared the match a draw, and all went home, dumbfounded.

    Except one of the members of the team had an idea: maybe this person was going to have a garage sale. C64s were swiftly loaded with Printshop and posters were printed and distributed to members of cricket team, friends, family. A delay of about 6 weeks was decided upon to absolve any obvious guilt, and then the posters were put up everywhere in about a 10km radius - main roads, railway stations, shopping centres, even university cafeterias.

    It read something like this:
    Garage Sale. Sunday 10th April, ## Smith St, GenericSuburb. Owner relocating to US, everything has to go. TV, Fridge, lounge furntiure, beds, bicycles, lawnmower, jetski, trailer, tools, books, CDs, bric-a-brac, antiques. All to be sold by 11am; after that it's free. Early start, 7AM.

    Two stooges who bravely volunteered to observe reported that the first professional antique dealers turned up around 4AM. A large police presence was requested by about 7.30am after the place was pretty much over-run. People were still turning up late into the evening.

    I only heard this from someone, I had nothing to do with it.

  5. tantryl Says:

    I don't need any of your stuff, but I'm strapping on my steel capped nut crunchers as we speak and will be around momentarily.

  6. Jax184 Says:

    In that case I'll take his emate. Oh, and his cats. My cat just gives me dirty looks all day and barfs on the floor.

  7. RichVR Says:

    Dibs on the workbench.

  8. Stark Says:

    Before attempting to relieve Dan of his belongings I think one should remember that he is what could be a called a crafty and skilled fellow. Do remember that he has this : http://www.dansdata.com/pershing.htm (amongst others) and can make this : http://www.dansdata.com/personal/Bombs.html
    He also has an array of lighting objects that I roughly calcuate, when used in conjuction, could light you afire from approximately the orbit of the moon. Not to mention his trained attack cats.

    So, you may want to think long and hard before attmepting to invade Dan's domain... I'm just saying...

  9. yetanotherdan Says:

    I'm only going round after someone claims the bone chisel...


  10. Bruce Says:

    Is Dan now writing for the Sydney Morning Herald ?

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