Lesson Learned from a Self-Inflicted Craigslist Scam

scam alert

I’m a direct response copywriter. I sell — via the written word — for a living.

And I’ve come to think of myself as savvy and borderline impervious to pitches.

Which probably explains why I got knocked down a peg last week.

You could (but please don’t) say I had it coming.

Lemme explain…

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After two months of procrastination, I finally got our car in tip top shape: vacuumed, washed, and photographed.

With title in hand, and a list of all the important repairs, I hopped on Craigslist. It took me about 5 minutes to write up a sales pitch for the car.

I wasn’t worried about a Craigslist scam, even though I had read all the horror stories.

Sure, Craigslist’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, lots of flakes, scammers, and daydreamers. On the other, normal, purposeful people, looking for a deal.

I figured the lil’ energizer bunny I was selling — a Honda Accord — would bring out both groups. It was priced to sell, and listed on the unofficial first day of summer — the Friday before Mother’s Day.

Even better, the weather in Seattle was sunny and gorgeous, perfect for car shopping.

Sure enough, someone called within 30 minutes of the ad going live. A polite guy, Indian accent, living 10 minutes away.

“C’mon by,” I said.

We agreed on a time. Oh yes — he was bringing his “brother in-law.”

They arrived like clockwork, just as I was finishing some yard work.

Good cop, bad cop

The guy who called me was deferential and awkward. 

The brother in-law was cocky and direct. Shaved head, sunglasses, and an earring. I could tell from the questions he asked he was a car guy. He knew his stuff.

He took the car for a spin… probably around the block. I watched him get out. Slow. Unhurried. Practiced.

He liked the car… even said a few nice words about it.

But it wasn’t all sunshine. There were a few things  he didn’t like.

Because of those concerns, he could “only” offer half price.

Why was I shocked… outraged? I don’t know. It was classic haggling — start way low and then come up a little.

But I had taken my eye off the prize.

“WHAT???” “NO WAY!” I spit out.

He raised his offer by two hundred dollars.

And then he pulled out the money.

Uh oh. Got me!

monkey-474147_640Not because it was a wad of cash, mind you. It was the funny blue line in the middle of the ($100) bills. Till then, I’d never seen them before.

“Wait a sec… those real?” I wondered.

And how would I know if they weren’t?

The guy must’ve picked up on my nerves. He made a joke about the blue lines.

 Either he was trying to make me comfortable… or enjoyed watching me squirm.

I went into the house for the paperwork… and to think. On the way back, I ran into my neighbor, Jonathan.

“Hey — you know what a new $100 bill looks like?”

“No… why?” he smiled, like it was a pop quiz.

“Never mind.”

The break didn’t help. I couldn’t think straight!

Instead, I just stared at both men, not hearing their words. I imagined picking them out of a police lineup.

The brother in-law used my name a lot — that I did hear. He smiled a lot too… said he like me.

Then he told me the car was for his niece going to community college.

Heck, who doesn’t love a feel-good story?

Long story short… they talked me down. Nothing crazy, but more than I would have agreed to if my head wasn’t spinning.

We shook hands. The brother in-law counted out the money and then let his real emotions show.

BIG GRIN!

Me? Now I was REALLY nervous!

They left. I went into the house and asked my wife to go deposit the cash before the bank closed. With a teller.

The money cleared.

Now I was really upset — was annoyed. Why’d I agree to their discount?

The lesson for you, dear reader?

It’s NOT to better understand standard customer negotiation tactics.

It’s this: if you’re gonna demand cash from a customer, at least KNOW WHAT THE HECK IT LOOKS LIKE!

And yes… while I’m not proud of my Captain Obvious discovery, I do hope my experience helps.

There’s no shame in falling for a sophisticated Craigslist scam, but there’s PLENTY shame in falling for a self-inflicted one!

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