New Craigslist Scam Harvests Your Cellphone, Crams $9.95/Month

A new Craigslist scam is targeting your cellphone. Sellers report getting a message from a “serious buyer” who is busy “at work” and “can’t contact” them now. The fictional buyer says they “use a website that can save information” and asks the seller to “leave your phone number there” so they can call you after they “get home to arrange a meeting.” Based on one users’ experience, the site, which has already been pulled, then starts cramming $9.95/month monthly charges onto any cellphone number that gets entered. Here is one of the scam emails:

“Hi, I’m very interested in your item and would like to pay in cash.

I’m at work currently, so I can’t contact you before I get home.

However, I use a website that can save information so you can leave your phone number there.

Send me your cell phone number here:

I’m a serious buyer and need this. I will call you after I get home to arrange a meeting.



While most Consumerist readers wouldn’t fall for such a ridiculous request, the naive, inexperienced, or desperate could fall afoul.

(Thanks to c-side!)


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  1. TouchMyMonkey says:

    .pn is the Pitcairn Islands.

    My guess is, it’s one of those places nobody knows about where scammers can get a domain name, no questions asked.

    • KhaiJB says:

      well. you don’t know about it if you’ve never heard of Mutiny on the Bounty…. that’s where the Crew went…

      • Angus99 says:

        Yes, and look how well that worked out for them in the end!

        (I hear it’s actually quite beautiful)

    • KilgoreTrout says:

      I’ve never had a question asked when I’ve registered domains before. Anyone that wants to pay the $10 or so per year can get a .com address. Scammers like this know their page is going to get shut down pretty quickly. They just get as many numbers as they can and then register another domain when they get shut down. They probably went with .pn because it’s a few bucks cheaper.

  2. sonneillon says:

    My mom once got caught trying to get a ring tone and they tried to start cramming her phone bill. She made her phone company not pay them and got her account credited but it was a hassle and her asking the CSR. “Are they your customer?” “Do they pay your company as much as I do?” “Then show some customer service and service your customer not just some random scam company”

    • SacraBos says:

      Kudos to your Mom!

      • sonneillon says:

        yeah but they didn’t make easy for her, but she spent 30 years in a “mans profession,” and she learned to never back down or they will walk all over you.

    • discounteggroll says:

      Hi, I’m very interested in your mom and would like to meet her in person.

      I’m at work currently, so I can’t contact her before I get home.

      However, I use a website that can save information so you can leave your mom’s phone number there.

      Send me your cell phone number here:

      I’m a serious buyer and need this. I will call you after I get home to arrange a meeting.


  3. Pepper says:

    Ridiculous request indeed, considering that a simple reply to such email with a cell phone number, also stores it for later use. D’oh!

    • Dutchess says:

      I agree if someone is stupid enough to fall for this, they kinda deserve it!!

      • jiubreyn says:

        Totally! When are we going to start calling it like it is: ignorance. If you know how to browse Craigslist, then you know how to use email. There is no excuse to fall for something as transparent as this.

        • jiubreyn says:

          Erm, […] for* falling for something as transparent as this.

        • Tankueray says:

          My grandfather is specifically someone who knows how to browse Craigslist, doesn’t know email, and would fall for this. Of course, he doesn’t know how to do email at all, so he would never read the one sent to him to go to that web site.

  4. nbs2 says:

    The problem with warnings is that we begin to rely on “telltale signs” and stop using common sense. Based on the historic warnings, the reasonable novice or desperate homeowner would see: a) cash buyer, b) local buyer; c) willing to arrange a meeting; d) no typos or major grammatical errors; e) no hidden URL or phishing attempt for private information. In short, reason enough to trust the person and enter the information, without thinking.

    Not that I advocate not warning folks, I just wonder how to get people to recognize warning signs while reminding them that vigilance is always required and that those warning signs are not an exclusive listing.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Right, and the first rule of internet common sense is that you don’t click on mysterious links.

    • Mighty914 says:

      If you go by another telltale warning sign… “is the e-mail too generic?”, that might be the clue here anyway.

      “…interested in your ITEM” (as opposed “…interested in your tennis racket”) is a pretty fast giveaway, I’d say.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        yeah, i recently posted listings for a charity fundraiser yard sale and got at least half a dozen responses consisting of “hi, is this still available?”
        i bet they actually get some people who respond with “really, it’s a yard sale, it’ll be on saturday at 7 am”

    • aloria says:

      Unfortunately, and I run into this every day, some people just do not have the willingness and/pr mental faculties for “common sense.” Their minds are set to do things rote, with no room for critical analysis or any deviation from steps. This applies to pretty much everything– I know people who would rather waste half their day following meaningless steps than take an hour to step back, look at the process, and think about how they could do things more efficiently. There’s no room for “if A, do this, else if B do that, otherwise do it”; if it’s not “complete step 1-10, repeat,” their minds just shut down.

      • aloria says:

        That’s also not to say that those kinds of people are stupid; they were just never exposed the mindset of looking at things with a critical eye, or were taught that questioning “the way things are” is wrong. Heck, I remember after coming out of 8 years of a super-strict Catholic School, I thought my English teacher was insane for asking me to find flaws in pieces of literature.

  5. ajaxd says:

    Based on my Craigslist experience any response that makes it difficult to contact buyer or anything that looks a bit unusual is either a scam or just plain waste of time. This example is just screaming that it’s a scam.

    Follow these rules and you will be fine:
    Get a phone number and make sure the buyer answers
    Cash only, face to face
    Meet where and when you feel safe

    • Skyhawk says:

      So I shouldn’t agree to ship a $1500 computer to a third-party, overseas and accept a Western Union money order for payment?!
      But the buyer’s note indicated he was a religious fellow. :)

      Your three simple rules would save many people, many hassles.

    • Invader Zim says:

      Asking me for a phone number isnt going to yield one. I require a real email conversation about the item I am selling. Once convinced your not data mining and you are serious then a phone number exchange takes place. Too many “it is still available” “where you at” (esp when location is posted already) whats the condition (posted), whats your phone number…or call (some who’s prefix i have never heard from). Too many jokers not enough time

      • AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

        Yep. Just sold a car on Craigslist, and am in the process of selling a bike on there too. Sooooo many responses with “I’m interested in your item” or “Is it still available?” (within an hour of the posting) and other generic crap. I’d say 50% of the responses are spam junk.

      • jacques says:

        I tried to sell a car on CL. What a waste of time – I got 3 calls a day, all were scam companies. Same with emails. And when I was looking for a different car a few months back, I’d say a good 20% of the ads posted were scams too.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        The others, I can kind of understand, but the phone number is understandable if you live near a college town. There are people who still have the phone numbers they have back home and carry that with them when they go to college.

        I always ask if something is still available because sometimes the person just forgets to take down the listing, or it just sold.

  6. finbar says:

    It seems strange that simply entering your phone number into a website, with no other information or authorization, could result in an automatic charge placed on you phone bill.

    Is it really this easy to get a charge placed on an individuals phone bill?

    • SacraBos says:

      Yes. I got crammed by some “voice mail to email” scam that I never heard of before. Fortunately, I think that one resulting in someone doing jail time.

      Also, I get phone calls from “business directory” people sometimes, and they want to confirm the business name, address, and phone carrier. Phone carrier? On a directory listing? Nope, they want to cram charges on your phone bill.

    • dvdchris says:

      Yes, case in point DadaMobile. I had recurring charges of 9.95 on my bill and when I called the company to investigate, they said my phone number had been entered on their website to get ‘free’ ringtones. They are supposed to have a double opt-in before they start billing you; i.e., first opt-in is entering phone number on website, second is a positive response to their opt-in text message.
      Problem is, I never entered my number on their site, and certainly never opted in via a response text.
      Turns out they have tons of similar complaints against them. They are based overseas, so apparently little can be done to put them out of business. Of course, the phone companies are just as liable in my opinion letting a third party just start adding to your phone bill.

  7. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Don’t trust any person or business that uses the word “serious(ly).”

    • TouchMyMonkey says:

      Really. People ought to know what the phrase “I am a serious buyer” translates to in English.

  8. kylere1 says:

    How greedy does someone have to be to fall for this?

    • halcyon22 says:

      I don’t think the seller would have to be greedy at all. Is everyone trying to sell something on Craigslist greedy?

    • tbax929 says:

      I think “gullible” might be the word you’re looking for. There are lots of folks on Craigslist selling things who aren’t greedy. I sold my PS3 on there when I realized I’d never actually used it.

  9. Macgyver says:

    “I’m at work currently, so I can’t contact you before I get home.”
    What? She can’t contact someone because she’s at work, but yet she contacted them through email.
    If someone is a serious buyer, they should contact you, you shouldn’t have to contact them.
    That just screams scam.

  10. coren says:

    User’s, not users’.

    /petty grammar correction
    /breaking commenting code out of sheer laziness and apathy

  11. Engine-B says:

    I was looking for a summer sublet a few weeks ago and I was amazed at how many scams there were on craigslist. I didn’t fall for any of them, but I have to imagine people do fall for the scams or the scammers wouldn’t waste their time. One scam I ran into repeatedly was that they wanted me to go to some website where they do a credit check. The site looks legit, so I’m sure people do fall for it.

    Another issue I had was that there was no good way to report the scams to craigslist. I tried once, but the same ad keeps getting put up there every few days.

    • KilgoreTrout says:

      I saw the same thing. They all had pictures of empty, newly renovated houses and listed the location as being in a nice neighborhood, but wouldn’t ever give an address. The rent would usually be about 60% less than I was expecting for the neighborhood. I’d email to ask what the address was and get a reply saying “we’re having an open house this weekend. Just go here for a quick, free credit check.” I wonder how many people have had their SSNs harvested through scams like that…

  12. SacraBos says:

    Give them a Google Voice number, forwarded to your cell phone.

  13. darkwolf777 says:

    Got one of these emails today for an ad I placed last night. I have my GVoice number in the ad so I can block any unwanted activity.

    Red flags went off as soon as I got to the part requesting I enter my cellphone number at this website (mine was I looked up the .pn domain, and also traced the originating IP address from the email. Traced back to Croatia.

  14. johnrhoward says:

    I’m not sure people stupid enough to fall for this deserve to keep their 9.95 a month.

  15. calchip says:

    “I’m at work, so I can send an email, and presumably receive emails also. But instead of having you email me your phone number, or giving you mine, I want you to go to some obscure website with some country suffix you’ve never heard of and put your phone number in there.”

    THAT makes a lot of sense. I really can’t believe people would fall for that, but then again, I realize there are a lot of Internet users who aren’t super sophisticated.

  16. NikonGal says:

    As long as you don’t give potential Craigslist buyers your home address and invite them over at 9:30 at night….

    • aloria says:

      This is why I’ll never sell anything on Craigslist that can’t be easily carried to a public place. My safety is worth way more than getting rid of old furniture and electronics.

    • TardCore says:

      Terrible, but how many people are robbed and killed that never listed anything on craigslist?

  17. Khassy says:

    The biggest problem isn’t that unsuspecting people can fall for this scam, its that these websites allow anyone to submit ANYONE’S phone number. I was hit by this scam and had never been to any website to enter my phone number. First I knew of it was when I got a text message on my phone confirming that I’d been signed up to some stupid “love thought of the day” or some crap like that. I researched it, found that it was a website that allowed anyone to put any phone number in it and sign them up, regardless of whether the person who owns the phone number permits it. I was able to get the charge removed ($9.95 per month, charged immediately) by contacting Sprint, who put also put a block on my account to prevent future unauthorized charges.

  18. microcars says:

    Here is a clue:
    Anytime someone has to say “I am a serious buyer”, it is a scam

    In fact, anytime anyone has to describe themselves, it is usually not true
    “I am rich”
    “I have a lot of money”
    “I am going to sue you”
    “I am famous”

  19. Nighthawke says:

    Spamcop it. Let them drop the hammer on them via Realtime Block Listing.

    • dvdchris says:

      Cool, bookmarked

    • jacques says:

      Wow, it’s probably been 10 years since I’ve been to that site. I thought it was shut down a long time ago for a while but can’t find anything about it

  20. nutbastard says:

    what i hate is how apathetic the phone companies are.

    no change should ever be made to a phone bill without PIN authorization *sent from the phone in question* as a direct response to a confirmation text message. human phone call would be even better.

  21. humphrmi says:

    I have a landline that forwards incoming calls to my mobile. I’d give that one out. My friends have my “real” mobile, unknowns get the landline – forward setup. Same effect as Google Voice basically.

  22. oldwiz65 says:

    The telcos continue to allow the cramming since they get a cut of the money. If the charge is $9.95, probably only $5 goes to the crammer and the telco keeps the rest. Since lots of people never notice it, the telcos let it continue. The telcos should require written authorization for adding anything to your phone bill, but as long as the crammers pay the phone co it’s not going to happen.

  23. COBBCITY says:

    Murderers. Scams. Terrorists looking for Cars to put bombs in. Adults looking for hookups. YUP, Craigslist certainly is where I would choose to advertise something for sale. Not exactly a family friendly place……. I’ll stick with the newspaper classified ads. Thanks!

    • TardCore says:

      The stone age rocks! Technology is scary, and no psychos ever post or look at ads from a newspaper!

      • ChunkyBarf says:

        I get your point, but at least with a newspaper ad the bad guy would have to spend some money and/or only be able to target a fraction of the people.

        Personally, I would never use Craigslist; but with some basic ‘rules of the road’ most people can greatly reduce their exposure to serious risk.

        • TardCore says:

          People have been robbed and beaten long before the internet was invented. Meet in a public place and you’ll be fine.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I wouldn’t call the local newspaper classifieds section a ‘family friendly place’ either – like TardCore said, people were being robbed and beaten long before Craigslist rolled around, so it’s really not the snake pit that you’re making it out to be. Just have common sense, and be careful.

  24. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    And yet another reason why I use a prepaid cell phone number when selling stuff on Craigslist.

  25. VRB says:

    I continue to be amazed that people use Craig’s List.

    • 1kamaz says:

      There is nothing wrong with Craigslist – I’ve sold and purchased a bunch of things there without any problems – from electronics to vehicles. As long as you are smart about using it, it’s a great site. Unfortunately, some people are so fixed on getting a deal of the century that they allow themselves to fall for anything.

    • ChunkyBarf says:


    • JulesNoctambule says:

      Been using it for years, and the only problem I’ve had was when I posted an ad for free liriope and kept getting calls for days after I’d taken down the ad.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Why? I’ve never had a problem buying or selling using Craigslist. How is the “danger” any different than all those “Make $5,000 in a day!” ads in the regular paper classifieds?

    • NatalieErin says:

      In my city, at least, the only place to find an apartment is Craigslist. No landlord pays for the newspaper ads any more, and rental agencies only have expensive executive apartments for people who want to feel like they live in NYC.

      The fact that bad things pop up in the news doesn’t mean the website is some sort of blackhole of evil and scammers.

  26. phonic says:

    Why doesn’t the scammer just ask the guy for his cell phone number so he can call him up, and then enter it in himself? I mean, that would work the same way and be a lot less suspicious, wouldn’t it???

  27. Big Mama Pain says:

    I am so bummed about what is happening to Craigslist. It seems like it’s bloated with scams and spam. I used to get amazing resumes when I would post a job opening, but now when I do, for months I get resumes for jobs that don’t even fit the description from all over the country (I presume there is now some automatic thing you can put your resume through that will send it based on keywords or something). More recently, I posted an ad to sell something, and the ONLY replies I received were cashier check scams, Nigerian scams, and this more recent scam of using an intermediary to conclude a transaction.

  28. KMFDM781 says:

    When I see “I use, there is a, go to this Website” anywhere in a response to my CL post, I don’t bother to read any more and delete it.
    What bothers me is that people actually will click on it and give information.

  29. jiubreyn says:

    Craigslist is correspondence via email. Why would you go to a website to leave your information when you can just provide it in the email and wait for a call back that way? Seems like common sense to me.

  30. darksly says:

    Who would fall for that? Look at the url it is shaddy… and whats up with alpha numeric coding at the bottom… If someone really wanted to buy my item they should contact me when they have time to discuss it.

  31. kairi2 says:

    Damn you scammers. I don’t like to talk to people on the phone, much less strangers off of Craigslist, so I actually use the “I’m at work and can’t call you now” excuse. Is nothing sacred?