“Barton understood the common denominator in people – that most people can be appealed to at their basic core: Greed.” (MSNBC American Greed)
A chintzy internet scam with apparent ties to the Chinese mainland seems to be metastasizing throughout the web while attacking Craigslist world-wide with bot generated spam. But in the wider scheme of things, Craigslist doesn’t seem to be the only target. Reports from the web indicate that the racket runs the whole gamut from computers to colon cleansing concoctions. Backed by flashy-but-trashy looking websites, and the promise of electronics and designer doodads for the price of a song, the scam is spawning new websites, even as old ones get shut down or compromised by internet watchdogs.
The Ultimate Perplex: Despite what one would consider common sense on top of prominent warnings by Craigslist and anti-scam websites, people are still being scammed and ripped off with promises of cheap electronics, shoes, clothes, and accessories. And by cheap we mean goods that are being advertised at 33% of what they would otherwise cost in a legit store.
The trend boggles the mind until one realizes that the scammers are relying on the greed, ignorance and the relative naivety of internet newbies to provide them with a fresh “meat”. And they increase their chances by spawning more websites and spamming everything from Craigslist classifieds to its community forums. This trend represents a subversion of internet-driven entrepreunerialism (characterized by low overheads) and Chris Anderson’s long tail economics.
Cyberaxis first became aware of the growing problem in early February of 2009 when evidence of spam-and-scam infiltration became highly visible on the computers and electronic classifieds of the New York and San Francisco webpages of Craigslist. There has since been evidence of an ebb and flow to the infiltration with Craigslist and the spammers deploying measures and counter-measures with varying degrees of success.
Craigslist is (a bit) like the old Soviet Union. They rule with an iron fist of censorship but they are also slow to respond. (Kokomo, CL Apple/Mac Forums 11/03/09)
To date, company sources and analysts say spam has just been a nuisance, but the implications of even moderate success on the part of spammers can have ominous implications for Craigslist. Check out “Inside Craigslist’s Increasingly Complex Battle Against Spammers” by John Nagle. Could this be the Capitalist’s revenge by proxy?
The Two-headed Monster – Spamming & Scaming: Spam is nothing new to Craigslist but there is a difference between spamming and jamming. Spamming debases the Craigslist user experience by filling the classifieds with redundant, useless or non-local ads. And jamming takes it to a whole new level by flooding local classifieds with spam to a point where the locals almost give up on finding local ads because of the need to wade through endless spam crap to get to them.
This should be the first tip-off as to the motives of spammers currently jamming the New York computer/electronic classifieds and trying their darndest to infiltrate the flagship San Francisco website.
To get a perspective on things, you really have to think like a local who just wants to buy a used widget from your neighbor Bob or someone across town. Now given that scenario, are you gonna trust a spammer, two continents removed, just because they are selling a MacBook Pro for the price of a song? Are you gonna trust someone who doesn’t leave you or your neighbor Bob space to advertise your wares in your own local classifieds? Hold onto the thought if you haven’t gotten the gist of this yet.
Letter to Cyberaxis from Craigslist user, Jay, 11/06/09
I have just been scammed by these A$$H01E$!! at http://myelecshops.com/ !!
I knew that it was to good to be true before I did it, but I decided to gamble anyway. Well, I lost. After I sent the required $300 to them, I received an e-mail saying that they had received the maximum amount of money for the year, and could not accept any more Western Union payments. So I went to Western Union and they said they couldn’t do anything about it at that point.
I am not complaining because I knew going into this that this was probably too good to be true. Don’t do like I did. Please follow the old advice; “If it seems to be good to be true, it usually is.”
Jay, Craigslist User, (See other responses at end this article)
The spammers currently attacking Craigslist have been reported to be scammers, and with each wave of bot-generated spam, they have become emboldened to the point of rubbing Craigslist’s nose in it. (And Craigslist, which seemed caught up in its own annus horribilis with the Phillip Markoff/Julissa Brisman cause celebre, seemed relatively powerless to do anything at the time. We could not blame them. The legal, human and P.R. stakes associated with the case were just too high to ignore. But we digress.) The scammers involved in the current attack on Craigslist seem to be based in China, the location of scam website servers notwithstanding. (The actual servers could actually be off-shore or anywhere in the world.) The waxing-and-waning evidence seems all over the New York computer/electronic classifieds.
The San Francisco computer/electronic classifieds have not yet succumbed to the onslaught because of the vigilance of the flagging community in San Francisco. But the flaggers will, sooner or later, need more than a wish and a prayer from Craigslist before flagger-fatigue sets in. The section intermittently gets cornered, with sporadic breaches being made, especially at night when the flagging hordes are asleep. There is always the hypothetical chance of the site being over-run (like the New York or Toronto sites at points in the past) which would be the cyber-equivalent of the parasite killing the host.
UPDATE (As of 8/23/09) Whether the recovery/cleaning up of the New York website is the result of new CL filters or more aggressive flagging on the part of New York Craigslisters is not yet clear. Bottom-line: The problem persists. There is also new evidence as of October 2009, of the Toronto computer classifieds being hit.
The big question: Now if spam-and-scam artists can hit Craigslist at will like this, what is there to stop the anti-Craigslist lobby from hitting it across the board with nonsense postings just to undermine its free ads platform and promote competing schemes? (Read that monetized alternatives.)
Think of the Craigslist user in affected areas. Where do they go right now if they want to browse or post in the computers and or electronics section? Get the point?
Partial list Craigslist sites that have been hit: (Look for this to change from time to time)
Toronto Computers Classifieds
You can usually identify the scam ads by the unusually low prices and idiosyncratic or nonsensical location information. The write-ups are usually cut and dried and look like they were copied and pasted from product write-ups from company or manufacturer web pages. They are done in about the same style and layout.
Blanket Warning to Craigslist Users: Do not send money to these spammers-and-scammers. Check out a verbatim post out of Miami Dade Craigslist:
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org [Errors when replying to ads?] Date: 2009-04-24, 10:14AM EDT
http://www.service158.com is a scam. I wired hundreds of dollars on purchases from their website they only accept wires so I wired them the money I never heard from them ever again and they never sent my products it was a scam! If you see their posting flag them we have to keep them out of our craigslist community and if anybody by the name of JianHuan Guan asks you to wire money to him/her do not do it this was the person that scammed me. He might had changed the website name because other people have also posted that they’ve been scammed by this same seller. He can change his website name and even his fake American name he use as a representative JianHuan Guan calls himself Chris but his real name cannot be changed because wires require you use a government ID to prove your identity in order to claim money wired to him and his real name is JianHuan Guan! Do not wire a penny to him he’s a scammer with a professional website that doesn’t send what you purchased from him.
- Location: CHINA
- it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
PostingID: 1137774825 Copyright © 2009 craigslist, inc.
Craigslist Spam and Scam List: Please do not buy from or interact with these scammers! The contact information of these apparent spam-and-scam websites is maintained here as cautionary registry. Please do your own research via Google and other search engines to reach your own conclusions.
The New Hide & Seek Trick: While most will put out their contact information right inside the ad, a few have started withholding that information in the hope that you will reply to their baited ads with your true e-mail address. Some newer websites are posting without phone numbers or physical addresses or what passes for them.
Notice how they use the same chintzy template. Someone who is really familiar with China should do some basic research into the addresses presented on this list and do a corresponding write-up. Some, if not all, are probably fake or made up, but it would be interesting to find out from someone who is familiar with the lay of the land.
Please have updated security and anti-malware software before clicking on these websites, if at all. (You can get free versions of AVG or Avira Antivir from the web as part of your security net.) Some of the spam-and-scam websites on Craigslist have have been reported by Google as attack websites – which is really great public service. See the Google advisory on Safe Browsing towards the end of this post. And FYI, you can read more about malware and virus disseminating websites at stopbadware.org and related site you can find via Google.
Please Note: Most of these websites may be now be defunct as the result of being jammed or closed down by official or unofficial action.
1. http://www.rich-deal.com (Probably defunct)
Address: No. 88 East of Quinghua’s Rd
Haidian District, Beijing, China.
2. http://www.service158.com/ (Probably defunct)
Address: 2307 Yuanyangshiji, Haidian District.
5. http://iseller168.com/ (Probably defunct)
Address: Room 2018, SongGang Mansion,
Bao An District Guangdon 518105, China.
6. http://captin-b2b.com/ (Probably defunct)
Address: No. 2307 Yuanyangshiji Haidian District,
9. http://www.tutvw.com/ (Probably defunct)
Address: No. 118 Dongshong Street,
East City Region, Beijing, China.
Address: No 2 Donghuan Road, Tai Hu Town,
TongZhou, Beijing, China
Address: No 24 198 Lane, Silk Factory Road,
Nanyang City, Henan Province, Beijing, China.
12. Webpage: http://www.hi8888.com/ (Probably defunct)
Address: Room 2018, SongGang Mansion,
Bao An District, Guangdong 518105, China
MSN: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
13.www.stores-seller.com (Probably defunct)
Address: No. 108 YuanYangKeJi,
Haidian District, Beijing China.
14. www.fair-cheap.com (Probably defunct)
Address: No. 108 YuanYangkeji
Haidian District, Beijing, China
15.www.store-hot.com (Probably defunct)
Address: No 10 Huayuandonglu,
Haidian District, Beijing, China.
16. www.well-deals.com (Probably defunct)
Address: No 118 Dongzhong St.
East City Region, Beijing, China.
17. http://www.yebyshop.com/ (Probably defunct)
Address: No. 108 YuanYankeji
Haidian District, Beijing, China
19. www.fair118.com (Apparently defunct)
Address: Room 2013 Zhongguancun Mansion,
Hai Dian District, BeiJing 100088, China
Business Manager: Amy Chen
Business MSN: email@example.com
Notice the lack of purported brick-and-mortar address or phone number. This is a new twist.
File this non-electronic website one under “highly suspect” for not having a physical address and a phone number (verified or otherwise) and relentlessly spamming Craigslist forums on top of steering prospective “customers” towards questionable payment schemes without a verified brick and mortar location or verified professional association. the same shady payment schemes. This website is listed as a spammer at blacklisted.spambag.org. Their supposed “sales people” offer extra discounts if you buy lots of stuff and send your money via Western Union . Automatic red flag right there!
They do take credit cards even though they try and steer new customers towards Paypal (Another red flag). Their credit card information window asks you to give out all your information, which can lead to an outright rip-off or identity theft when you are dealing with a company that does not have a verified physical address, phone number or professional affiliation. You are basically sending your vital credit information to a nameless, faceless company, thousands and thousands of miles removed from home.
Company: TANGCHAO Trading Co. Ltd
ADD: FUZHOU ,FUJIAN,CHINA
MSN : firstname.lastname@example.org
(Please note that this website has the same model and scheme as http://www.toptog.com)
Here is their payment instruction for 35usd.com quoted verbatim, typos and all:
In order to protect our customer’s interest and avoice scame, we accept paypal as payment. If you want pay by Western Union,pls contact our live chat to get our payment info,then you need to do:
1. Find a local client of Western Union. You can visit http://www.westernunion.com , on which you will know how to do and where your local agent of western union.
2. Fill our information of Western Union in a Tabel and send the money.
3. After you send the money,you will be given a receipt,in which you will see the MTCN (Money Transfer Control No.). Please tell me the MTCN.That will be OK.
Address: No 13, HuaYuan Road, Haidian District, Beijing, China
Address: No. 6 Chaowai Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
Address: No 3A Dongzhimen South Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China
Address: No 36 North Third Ring Road East, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China.
The names of these fraudulent websites may change but their basic modus operandi remains the same. They are virtual copies of each other (Same or similar software & interface). We wouldn’t be surprised if they are put up by the same individual or group of individuals. Look for new ones to crop up as older ones get outed, busted or closed down.
Red flags & some useful pointers for investigating these scam websites:
1. Check prices of goods being advertised. If they are too good to be true, they probably are. Remember behind every bait-and-switch scam is a naked hook. The real catch they are angling for is your money.
2. Check the Whois database for the names, places and contact information associated with the company and or website. What e-mails are associated with the website? Are they free e-mail accounts from Yahoo or Hotmail?(Red flag right there. Reputable companies tend to have company e-mail tied into company websites and domains. Fly-by-night scamsters tend to rely on free e-mails which they can dispose of on the fly.)
3. Check the period of registration in the Whois database. Is it a long-term registration or simply a one year registration? (Red flag. Fly by night scamsters opt for shorter registrations to allow them to ditch any website that gets outed.)
4. Check the preferred method of payment for goods. Requests to wire money or use Western Union made out to an individual as opposed to a company should be an instant red flag. Craigslist clearly warns people against the Western Union moneygram thing.
5. Check Google for other reports and reviews about the company, including what Google has archived in cache form. If the collective reports are negative, hold onto your money as onto Jesus. 🙂
6. Google “Chinese scams” and read up on the reports of different kinds of scams being perpetrated. It may be a cliche, but yes, knowledge is power.
While at it, here are more tips for verifying the authenticity of a company in China (even though language may be something of a limiting factor):
7. Check the status of the website your are researching on sites like www.sitetruth.com.
8. Finally, any company that is unscrupulous enough to spam Craigslist the way these Chinese websites have spammed Craigslist is probably not gonna be scrupulous about not screwing you out of your money. Their eggregious intrusions speak volumes about their ethics and concerns for the locals beyond their shores.
The Wider World of Spam and Scam-ology: The Postini map below shows that scam’s are a world wide phenomenon with continental and regional clusters with common characteristics. They spread quickly within regional underworlds. The Chinese model targets people in ways that are somewhat different from the Nigerian and European scams. The use of a crude but flashy website with unbelievably low prices, represents a sub-type that has metastasized quickly among operatives on or off the mainland. (Where mutual greed is involved, language and or cultural barriers are rarely a deterrent. European and Nigerian scammers have proved that beyond a shadow of doubt.)
The spam-and-scam list on this blog is thus a minuscule tip of the iceberg. For more information on the wider world of Chinese scammers please check out these two websites:
1. “The bigger list of Chinese Scams”:
Scroll down to the bottom of the page for an exhaustive list of scam websites that have been included for one reason or another. The criteria are mentioned in the article. This list is very helpful as a starting point of your own research. Caveat: The “Firetrust.Com” webpate is linked to a commercial product called “Sitehound” which is an anti-scamming toolbar. It comes in two versions: The basic version which is free and the enhanced version which is being sold for $29.95. We are not necessarily endorsing this product. You can read up on it on Google and make up your own mind as to whether it is a valuable investment to you.
2. Fraud Watchers website:
3. Scam-checker website
4. Have security software on your computer that will detect attack sites that may have malicious ware downloaded onto your computer without your knowledge. One such site that was blocked by Google for suspicious activity in September of 2009 was sage-buy.com.
Please Note: We will update this list as new websites and contact information becomes available. Meanwhile, you can read the other Cyberaxis article on the spam-and-scam problem here.
copyright© 2009 cyberaxis.wordpress.com
Feds seize 150 websites in counterfeit crackdown (Alicia Caldwell, Associated Press – USA Today, November 28, 2011)
China Scams (Hobotraveler.Com) Reported examples of people scammed.