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Craigslist Personals Ads Scams: Instant Results Aren't What They Seem

It all started with a book review in the Wall Street Journal, of a new compilation of clever personal ads from the London Review of Books, titled "Sexually, I'm More Of A Switzerland."

I can write stuff like that, I thought. And I know just where to post it. On the way home from the library, I came up with this:

He never calls. He forgot your mom's first name. He didn't send you a birthday card last time. (Loser!) The bottle of wine he brought over for Christmas dinner had a screw cap. At (the local mall's) food court, you saw him kissing a skinny, frowsy redhead wearing a Harley leather jacket and spike heels. Box up his laptop, his old robe you still like to wear, and all his valentines, and have them by the door next time he comes over. Dump that chump! Amorous monsieur seeks madame who deserves to be treated like the classy lady she is. C'est toi? Do you like red, white, or yellow roses?

An improvement over the usual stuff found in Craigslist Personals. I clicked Send. Five minutes later, I had a reply.

Hey I was looking through the ad's on cl and found yours. It seems we have some things in common......wink wink.

I'm 37, a RN by profession. I just recently moved to (my home town) originally from Calgary, Canada...

I'm fit, attractive. I'm also fun to be with so I'm told, and have a good sense of humor.

I'd like to find someone down to earth like myself, someone who doesn't take themself to seriously, I don't. I'm not just a good time girl, I'd like to see where it goes if we meet.

I'm not hung up on what a person has or looks like alone. Being shallow is just not me, I like a connection with a person, I'm not superficial in the least. I have a good career so I am stable and am happy with whatever it is that you do if you are happy with it.

Anyway, get back to me if interested, sorry to be so brief.

With this text was a well-lit, high-resolution pic of a nice-looking thirty-ish woman with dark hair and a wide smile.

An alarm bell rang, but I ignored it. It seemed possible that, during the early evening when Internet use peaks, someone could have found my ad five minutes after its posting. It also seemed possible that someone who could supply such a professional-looking photo could compose equally impressive text to go with it, even though it lacked references to anything I wrote. A second alarm bell rang, and I ignored it. When you really want something to be real, and work, you'll overlook a lot of things.

I composed a reply. By the time I clicked Send, a second response was in my In-box. Same format; nice well-composed pic of attractive middle-aged woman, text that made sense, but generic, with no references to my original post.

By the time I called it a day, three shorter responses had come. All had links to an age-verification site, where the visitor enters a sixteen digit credit card number and the verification code from the card's reverse side.

The bells rang so loud that even I couldn't ignore them.

To confirm what I figured was up, I wrote a second ad and posted it in M4W for a different nearby city. In the morning, I had replies from the same two thirty-ish women. Identical pictures, text, and sender names. Different e-mail addresses.

There was also an assortment of shorter responses, with shaky grammar, texting shorthand, and mis-spelled words (Craigslist being some distance from the London Review of Books). All the writers wanted me to prove I was legal via credit card number entered on an age verification site, or register at the pay Dating sites where they had profiles.

The age verification site is a scam site whose purpose is the collection of credit card numbers. A charge later appears on cardholder's billing statement. Many cardholders just pay the amount due without examining every debit. Some have the amounts automatically paid from their bank accounts. Others employ personal assistants who pay the bills without question. Each way, the scam site takes money from an unsuspecting visitor.

Women on pay Dating sites, after they get you to pay, have a way of disappearing.

I posted in W4M, in a third city, to find out if the same thing would happen.

Women have the cyberdating advantage by far. The number of actual men who respond to the W4M ad greatly exceeded that of scammers, both real and bot. Only "Della Thompson" -- attractive middle-aged woman #2 -- wrote to both my male and female identities. "Della, " in fact, writes regardless of my age, Sex, or location.

Men are regarded as prey. Each day has brought with it a sprinkling of new, generic replies to my M4W posts. "Amber, " per her identical description sent to each, has a "smoking build" (so why didn't she send a pic?) but apologizes for having no chat program. (How's she going to connect with anyone? Oh, that's right ... she wants me to buy a membership in her dating site to get e-mail and IM privileges). "Emily Rosslands" wants to know if both of me are real. (Yes, we're as real as today's weather, but not writing to any more bots.)

This morning, long after the first of my M4W ads appeared on-line, there is a response from "Lonni, " attractive middle-aged woman #1. Same name, pic and text as received three weeks ago. Someone new to the game must be in the process of catching up.

Sigh ...

Craigslist: the on-line equivalent of the notice board at the corner party store. The rules, or lack of enforceable rules, encourages deception. Is this any place to meet chicks?

Well, maybe.

In the sea of bots and scammers surfaced a real woman who knows what Ohm's Law is and who it was named for, and likes a good shaggy dog story. She and I have Yahoo IM. Sunday is Valentine's Day. When the subject is romance, one just never knows, do one?

By Tom Sanders -

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