We’ve established that Craigslist is the source of all awesomeness. But it’s also the source of the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. And now that we know each other so well, I think it’s time I told you the story of how I was scammed out of $200.
NOT because the internet is a scary place full of evil people.
NOT due to some sophisticated bait and switch.
Not for any reason at all, other than because I did not stop to apply rational thought to the experience I was having.
Instead, I did what I do best—charged past red-flag after red-flag… gleefully digging my own grave. And I will say this about myself—no one digs a grave like me.
In the last year, I’ve heard the phrase “under the ether.” To describe how scammers depend on emotion replacing common sense. And how people who are taken by scammers later wonder how they did not take five seconds to just THINK about whether this was a likely situation… because FIVE SECONDS is all you need to realize you are being an idiot.
Having had that exact experience, I was able to nod and congratulate myself on being totally textbook.
So. Last year my dad lost his iPhone. He put it on top of his car… and drove away.
I put an ad on Craigslist.
I should emphasize that I did NOT expect a response to my Craigslist ad. If you’re familiar with Philadelphia, you’ll recognize this is not a neighborhood where you might expect to have your phone returned and I credit the element of surprise, combined with my eagerness to believe the unbelievable, combined with my natural idiocy… which allowed me to dispense with reason.
It was a Monday. Around 10 a.m. I was sitting at my desk and my cell phone rang.
The guy on the other end said—I think I have your phone.
I freaked out.
He said—can you verify the color of the case?
And? Brace yourself.
I’m sure this will surprise you as much as it did me:
Amazingly, it was the EXACT same case.
Plus? It was totally amazing how he’d been visiting his brother in Philadelphia and bought the phone from a kid on the street… and now that he was on his way home, he mentioned to his wife that he bought it. And she chided him that it was probably stolen… but now he was in North Carolina. And the phone was dead, so he couldn’t look to see whose it was. But his wife looked on Craigslist and made him call me. And now he was checking out of his hotel and wanted to get on the road, and could send it to me overnight if I wired him money through Western Union.
From the page on craigslist dedicated to making sure idiots are protected from themselves:
I cannot say the guy’s story made total sense to me, because there was no point at which I applied any sense to the conversation. My only response was JOY that I had recovered my dad’s phone.
I accepted it at face value. And as scam stories go, I think it was pretty decent… I mean, it’s better than the Nigerian prince.
AND? The real kicker was that he paid $50 for it, and that was ALL he wanted. Plus shipping.
He did NOT want the $300 reward.
But I was like, oh my God you are so amazing.
And your WIFE!!! SHE is so amazing.
And my dad is going to be so amazed!
And I cannot believe this worked out so amazingly.
So I insisted—I AM SENDING YOU $200.
BECAUSE YOU ARE SO AMAZING.
Plus, I was practically getting a bargain.
I was saving $100!
Then I RAN to Western Union. Because this amazing guy was on the road, and wanted to mail it out that morning, and he didn’t have too much time, and I had to do it RIGHT AWAY.
Then I called Paul and said—you will NOT believe what just happened!!!
Meaning my good fortune.
Meaning the amazingness.
Meaning the incredible generosity of the human spirit and Craigslist’s near-cosmic ability to solve all of life’s woes.
Paul said— are you sure? That sounds like a scam.
And then immediately I was like—DAMMIT.
That was totally a scam.
Once Paul said those words, there wasn’t even any transition period where my brain tried to deny it. IMMEDIATELY the spell was broken. And I sat there totally confused how I had done something so obviously stupid. I mean, I’ve done plenty of stupid things that were arguably avoidable, but not like this. Not SO OBVIOUS.
Paul said—look, I can’t talk right now, but I will make fun of you as soon as I get home.
Be sure you’re there.
Then the rest of the day he texted me stuff like:
Arkansas is NOT for sale.
DO NOT BUY ARKANSAS.
But when Paul got home, he didn’t mock me. He said that he’d decided I couldn’t actually claim to have been scammed at all. Since being scammed requires some level of hesitancy or inquisitiveness– a suspension of disbelief rather than just plowing forward without thought.
I wasn’t even angry at the guy. My eagerness was such that he must have several times thought that I was scamming him.
My principal feeling was embarrassment. At being the dumbest target ever.
I COULD have been scammed for $50 dollars plus $30 for imaginary overnight shipping.
But no. I had to INSIST on sending extra.
This was so mortifying I couldn’t tell anyone.
If my brothers find out? I will NEVER hear the end of it.
When I’m on my deathbed, they will hobble in with their walkers and their oxygen tanks, and they will be sure it’s the last thing I think of before I die.
They will say things like—hey Vic? Can you hear us? Remember the time you gave that guy extra money to scam you?
And also—hey Vic? Remember that time you bought your own gas cap?
And I will come out of my coma and be like—HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT I WAS BEING SCAMMED WITH MY GAS CAP???????
Then I will die.
I think of myself as being a great judge of people.
But after being presented with some pretty fundamental evidence to the contrary, I think I need to reevaluate.