Lessons Learned from A Scam

This post contains some hard lessons I recently learned through a craigslist transaction. Hopefully it could help you to become more cautious if you decide to sell something through craigslist or other similar online sites.

A while ago I won a competition at the company and the prize was an Xbox 360 with a 20G hard drive. However, I’m not a big fan of video games and I decided to sell the brand-new sealed package. Since I had some previous good experience with selling things through craigslist, I posted an ad in craigslist again this time. In Amazon the retail price for this type of Xbox 360 is $400 and I asked for $300. It was obviously a good deal and a few guys replied to the ad immediately after it was posted. I decided to make a deal with the guy who replied first. He asked to meet in the same afternoon. We made the transaction and everything seemed to be running smoothly. However, later in the evening, the guy sent me an email claiming the hard drive didn’t work. I was a little bit surprised because when I handed it to him, the box was still sealed.

I replied the next morning to talk with him and ask for the error he got. I told him it’s hard to find out exactly when the hard drive went wrong but I’d like to help to solve the problem by contacting Microsoft Support. However, he became nasty and claimed I was running a scam. In his email, he talked to me in a very threatening way. He said he recorded my license plate number (and proved it by including the correct number in the e-mail) and he would take care of this the hard way if I didn’t refund him. This was totally unexpected as I was responding to his emails all the way along. To avoid confrontation with a potentially dangerous guy, I refund him fully in the same evening. However, after coming back home, I found the controller was missing in the box. Since then, he has never answered my calls or replied to my emails.

I’m very suspicious he actually conned me. I feel it’s possible the original Xbox has no problem at all and he just replaced it with a bad hard drive and stole the controller with it. The email he sent to me was just to scare me and make me refund him his money.

Several lessons learned:

1. Always be very cautious when you use any public sites to make some deals. I’m not complaining about any specific website but most of them are open to everyone. It would be safer if the targeted audience could be limited. As far as I know, in Windows Live Expo, you could specify that the ads you’ve posted can only be viewed by people in your community, such as among all Microsoft employees.

2. Protect your identity as much as possible when dealing with strangers from the Internet. Only provide necessary information. Of course, if someone acts like this guy who purposely recorded your license plate number during the meeting, there’s not a lot you could do about it.

3. Don’t lose your composure. I could have found out the controller was missing up front if I had more composure. Of course the result might still be the same: the guy could have claimed he would bring it another time and then disappeared.

Meanwhile, doing business online can be enjoyable and I wish everybody good luck.

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