Robert Siciliano identity theft expert

I’m not stupid as stupid as I look. But there are plenty out there who think so. Over the past week scammers from Nigeria, Belgium and the UK have been coming after me in full force via Craigslist. Unfortunately the popular online classifieds site has become a launch-pad for criminal activity. Everything from online affinity or advanced fee scams to baby killers and the Craigslist killer have hampered the sites reputation.

I own a newly available rental property so I use Craigslist to bring in eyeballs to rent my apartment out. One scam that happened last year to me, involved scammers copying my ad 100% and changed the contact information in the ad to make it their own.

They cut the price of the apartment in half. People started showing up at the property to look at the place, instructed by the out of town scammer saying he was in Austria, who told them he was the owner. His instructions were to do a drive-by, and if they liked it to send him a check for a deposit. Fortunately I was in the driveway at the time when a couple came by and we discovered the ruse. It took numerous emails to Craigslist (who were very helpful) to get them to take down the fake ads that kept popping up.

And within minutes of placing the ad I get this email:

Subject: RENTAL INQUIRY!!hope to hear from you soon
Hello Robert,
Let me know if the room/apt you advertise on is still available and let me know if you can accept certified cashier check as mode of payment..And the last price for the space.

I’m presently in Belgium.I will be coming immediately the place is vacant for me to move in.But the issue is that because of the distance i wont be able to come to see the place.Meanwhile let me tell you a ill about myself..I don’t smoke and I don’t have boyfriend.Am Sarah Smith and my nick name is SERA and am 26years old i lost my dad some years back when i was young so my mom had to remarry so she married to Mr Scott Michael who is my step dad now..He has been the one who has been taking care of me all this while i believe he is a God sent to me cux i have never regretted moment with him..Things i like are as follows reading,swimming and chatting with people around me and also make them happy..I have always been thinking of how i will affect peoples life positively by making donations to the less privileges cus when i looked at my pass when i lost my dad from the story my mom told me..I noticed it is not easy for people that as no parent.Well i hope when we meet in person you will know more about me..Meanwhile my step dad will need the followings to make payment to you ASAP..
1.Your name and surname.
2.Address in full with the zip code..
3.I will need your phone number
I wait to have this information from you so that my step dad can make payment for the rental fee and security deposit in advance … I Await to hear from you….
Hope to hear from you pretty soon.
Thanks, SARAH


More than likely Sarah IS A DUDE, an idiot, and needs to get punched in the face.

It’s easy to dissect this scam. They are looking for 2 things;

1. They want to build a relationship with their mark. They provide a horribly written story that lures victims in to their liar world that gets some people to believe they are real. Once trust is established then victims are prone to falling for the puppet masters direction and will conduct all the necessary financial transactions they direct you to. Many victims will give out personal identifying information such as account numbers.

2. They are embarking on and affinity or advanced fee scam. They will send you out a check as a deposit for rent or for a car they are buying from you. You deposit this check into your account and it temporarily clears. In that limited window of time the scammer will request money back. Their ruse is they changed their mind about renting or buying or because the original check they sent was in error and was for more money than the purchase, and they want back the difference. The victim wires via Western Union the money back to them. The bank usually calls the victim within a day or 2 letting them know the check originally deposited was counterfeit and they have to pay back all the money to the bank.

Scammer 1. You Zero.

So, how do you protect yourself from this and other scams that begin with online classified ads?

Use common sense, be smart about it and keep your head up. If you do that, then nothing bad will happen.

Growing up mom and dad suggested we “not talk to strangers” for good reason. A stranger isn’t yet in our “trusted circle”. Online classifieds have become a tool for predators to lure in unsuspecting victims. Find out as much about this person as possible by searching them online. You can search their email address on Google or at

Be suspect of everyone. There isn’t any benefit in being paranoid; however, being a little guarded can keep you from getting into a vulnerable situation.

Deal locally. Chances are if you cannot meet the person in your town then they are a scammer. Even if you do meet them in person be suspect.

Take charge. Never engage in virtual financial transactions that involve credit cards, cashiers checks, money orders, personal checks, Western Union, Money Gram or for heavens sake – cash, that involves you paying out any money to anyone in response to “money” they sent to you. This is an Advanced Fee Scam.

Be smart. Never give financial information including account or social security numbers out to anyone for any reason. Scammers will say anything to get this information.

And, full disclosure, I’m working with a few companies whose products and services provide a great deal of personal security when conducting numerous transactions;

Prevent check fraud. When writing and sending a check in the mail to someone in these instances or for any other reason you want to prevent “check washing”. This is when they washout the pay-to and increase the dollar amount, draining your account. Something as simple and inexpensive as a select uni-ball pen can help. Select uni-ball pens contain specially formulated gel ink (trademarked Uni-Super Ink™) that is absorbed into the paper’s fibers and can never be washed out.

Secure your PC. Make sure your PC is protected with McAfee anti-virus software and all your critical security patches in your operating system are up to date.

Protect your identity. You can’t prevent all forms of identity theft. However you can significantly reduce your risk by making a small investment in your personal security by investing in Intelius Identity Protect or considering the options described in this blog post.

Robert Siciliano identity theft speaker discussing advanced fee scams

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