Imagine that your college age child is trying to stretch their wings by venturing out on their own to sublet an apartment in New York City. This is not that far of a stretch as I remember doing that very thing in Boston many moons ago! Now imagine that you find out that your child has been duped out of $1500 by criminals pretending to sublet that very apartment using Craigslist. You might be pretty upset when you find out that the police are just too busy with much bigger cases than to do much to find the criminal, right?
This is what happened to my friends Jim and Mala. The ad itself didn’t raise any suspicions and the apartment was in a good neighborhood and even had a doorman. However, the red flags should have gone up when the “landlord” asked for a wire transfer. Criminals use wire transfers because they are virtually untraceable and the victim has no recourse to get the funds back. This scam happens so frequently, it actually made the 2010 “Twelve Scams of Christmas”.
When Jim told me this story, I immediately asked if I could write a blog about their experience. I know from my own experiences over the years, it feels awful to be duped, but it is even worse when it happens to your child. Particularly worse when you think you have communicated clearly to them and think that they should know better. And much, much worse when you are particularly saavy online parents, like Jim and Mala, who routinely talk to your children about being smart online!
You know what? Criminals are very good at what they do. Jim and Mala’s child is a really smart young adult who has learned over the years to be very careful – and this still happened. So I try to keep this in mind – if criminals weren’t good at what they do, they would have a job just like everybody else. Sometimes kids have to make a mistake before they learn a valuable lesson. Sometimes they make mistakes multiple times before they learn.
Mala made an excellent point when she explained “We have constantly had the topic of online good practices as a point of discussion in our household – but the focus of our discussions had been always on cyberbullying, effective use (as in research) etc., and we had glossed over issues of dealing with money transactions online. What this incident “hit us over the head with” is that as our kids became young adults we didn’t expand our focus of concern to issues of identity theft and safe transactional practices (i.e. purchasing goods online) as an essential part of life today for young people. “
So today’s lesson is about interacting with strangers you meet online via forum type sites like Craigslist and safe transacting. I, for one, have used craigslist many, many times very successfully. However, I have followed certain rules every single time.
- Never wire money using Western Union! Criminals use wire transfer to separate you you’re your money and them from the crime. When the money is wired, you are giving away any protection you have – don’t do it!
- Never meet the person alone or in a secluded place. Whether you are going to them or they are coming to you, always meet in a public area or make sure you are not by yourself.
- Trust your instincts! If something seems off, walk away. If the seller is pressuring you to buy, stop and think before you transact. You should see the item or place in person and be completely happy with the item and the price.
- Shop with your head! Credit cards purchases are insured and give you some recourse if you are unhappy with a purchase. Use well known online stores or shop in “brick and mortar” shops for the safest transactions.
Stay safe out there!