Scams have long been – and probably always be – a part of our lives. From the smooth-talking snake oil salesmen of yesteryear to the Bernie Madoff schemes of a new generation, this criminal element has long preyed on the naive, the trusting types who buy into bargains that sound too good to be true because they are.
Over the years, scammers have had to be quick on their feet, ready to run from a spurned customer looking for revenge or to skip town ahead of a sheriff with an arrest warrant. Today, the anonymity of the Internet allows scammers to not only avoid personal contact but also cast a wider net to a greater pool of victims under the guise of many different personas.
It’s no surprise that thousands of those ads appear on craigslist. And it should also come as no surprise that craigslist does a poor job of identifying and removing those ads in a timely manner, leaving the door open for even more victims hours after ads are flagged.
That’s according to a study jointly conducted at University of Maryland, New York University and Cornell University that closely examined the rental listings in 20 cities over a 141-day period to identify scams. In all, the researchers put together a series of formulas that was able to detect and identify about 29,000 scam listings, many of which followed patterns that made identifying them that much easier.
That’s both good news and bad news. It’s good news because the researchers were able, in a short period of time, to produce a solution that could rid craigslist of many of these ads, saving some of its visitors from being exposed to them. The bad news is that a study of craigslist’s filtering and flagging systems for removing the ads was determined to be ineffective, with less than half of the ads identified by the research team actually being removed by craigslist during the test period.
In a 18-page report, the research team explains that, while craigslist filtering system for taking down scam ads is largely inefficient, there are other ways that the site could take down and deter the scammers, including government fines for deceptive advertising or working with the credit card companies to stop them from collecting funds. Without the ability to collect money from unsuspecting victims, the scam itself is no longer worth the effort.
But counting on craigslist to do the right thing, or to invest any real time or energy into making the site safer, is probably a long shot.
At Geebo, we do our best to be proactive against scams, largely by partnering with many other sites so that we only post legitimate ads from known sources, whether home listings or cars for sale. Likewise, I have devoted a page on geebo.com to tips on how to avoid being a victim of a scam.
At the end of the day, there will always be scammers and there will always be the types who fall for the scams, possibly because they’re naive or simply too trusting. One of the most important tips I provide my visitors is to follow their gut instincts – even if it means passing up a great deal or the perfect home. Your instinct will tell you that wiring thousands of dollars to a landlord who’s currently out of the country is probably a bad idea. Likewise, jumping through hoops to get an inside peek at an apartment should be a red flag.
Neither I, nor craigslist, can offer a 100 percent guarantee that an ad isn’t a scam. Those types of criminals are creative and are always finding ways to get one over. But we can do our parts to make it harder for scammers to infiltrate our sites.
Now that a team of university researchers have identified how to do that, we’ll see if craigslist takes action to make its site safer.