Craigslist Scammers Traced Back to Five Nigerian Gangs

Written by

Craigslist buyer scams can be traced back to just five gangs operating from Nigeria, although their increasing sophistication has meant these groups are now using agents in the US to help, according to new research.

George Mason University researchers Damon McCoy and Jackie Jones compiled the report, titled The Check is in the Mail: Monetization of Craigslist Buyer Scams, to be presented at the APWG Symposium on Electronic Crime Research in Birmingham, Alabama later this month.

They posted honeypot ads for used laptops – deliberately overpriced by 10% to dissuade legitimate buyers – and waited for the response.

They found that five groups from Nigeria were responsible for over 50% of the “scam payments” received.

The researchers included image links in their follow-up emails “in order to entice scammers to click on the link to our web server hosting the image and thereby allowing us to capture the IP address for further analysis.”

Most fraudulent payments were done with a bogus “certified cheque," with the scammers claiming that they’re unable to pick up the items in person but will use a US-based “mover agent” instead.

The amount made out on the cheque is more than the value of the products, with the seller told to send the difference after shipping charges back to them via Western Union.

Some US banks will “float” funds before the cheque has actually cleared, thus giving the scammers what they want. However, the unlucky seller will then be liable not only to pay the bank back said amount when the cheque bounces, but could also be in for an extra bank charge, the report claimed.

This system is more lucrative than regular PayPal fraud because the scammer not only gets the product but also the Western Union-transferred money from the seller.

The cheques themselves were forged to a high quality, some using VersaCheck cheque writing software on legitimate paper complete with watermarks and other security features, the report claimed.

However, while the addition of US “movers” help disguise the true destination of the products to the seller, they could provide US law enforcers with somewhere to start investigating.

“As future work we plan to design a study that would enable us to contact some of these people with the goal of gaining further insights into the nature of their involvement in this ecosystem,” the researchers said.

What’s hot on Infosecurity Magazine?