We recently blogged about a common Craigslist scam: Someone creates an ad listing your vacation rental, then confirms reservations – and collects deposits – from people who think they’re making a legitimate reservation. All this can happen without your even knowing.
When the scammer disappears, your would-be guests are left ripped off and disappointed, and you’re left with what is, at best, an awkward situation.
I want to show you how to create a “digital net” that can help reduce the likelihood of your getting stuck in this awful situation.
Craigslist: Offsetting the Risk
I advertise my vacation rental on Craigslist a lot because it works really well in my area (Sonoma). I’m always on guard when I’m on Craigslist (whether I’m a buyer or a seller), but the benefits outweigh the risks for me, so I haven’t felt the need to avoid it. I think I’m also pretty good at spotting the potential scams.
Regardless of how I feel about Craigslist, someone using my property info is a different beast because it can happen whether or not I use Craigslist and it can happen without my even knowing. So, while I can’t stop someone from doing this, I had some ideas on ways that I could alert myself when this was happening, and I wanted to test them out.
As someone who’s tech savvy, I decided to create a “digital net” to help protect myself – and unsuspecting travellers – from getting wrapped up in this con. As a starting point, I found a great reference about Craigslist alerts on Quora.
I then signed up to test a range of different alert tools:
- Google Alerts
- Use this WikiHow tutorial to get started
- Craigslist’s RSS (“Really Simple Syndication”) feed
“Charming 1662 sqft home for rent along beautiful tree-lined road in the coveted Sonoma East Side. Home is 2-3 blocks from the Sonoma Square and very walkable to shops, restaurants, bars, wine tastings, the town cinema, and more…”
Over the course of six weeks, I posted my listing five different times to see which tools would “catch” my posts. I focused the search on keywords that would be pretty unique to my property. I decided to search for the phrase “charming 1662 sqft cottage.” Each time I posted a new Craigslist ad, I sat back and waited for alerts to come in from these 7 different services.
- Subscribing to the relevant Craigslist RSS feed worked 100% of the time
- List-alert worked 100% of the time
- My IFTTT alert worked 60% of the time
- The rest failed.
CL Alerts has shut down. I contacted both Craigslist Buddy and Alertopedia to understand why my alerts didn’t trigger (and to confirm that they were still in business), but neither responded.
While I couldn’t get IFTTT to work 100% of the time, they seemed the most promising to me. IFTTT had the most responsive customer service, they are venture funded, and they probably have the best prospect of long-term sustainability. They were also the only tool that offered text alerts, which I found helpful; it’s easy to lose track of email, and this isn’t an alert I would want to miss! IFTTT also helped me troubleshoot when the alert wasn’t working properly.
Limitations With My Craigslist Alerts Test
Despite the usefulness of these alerts, there are a few negatives that I should note.
- These services may not be around for long. Craigslist has a habit of shutting down outside service that are build on top of Craigslist. Since Craigslist has shut down at least one of the services I tested, I’m not sure about the lifespan of any of them. Even my faith in IFTTT could be misplaced; the service connects numerous web tools, so while the tool itself seems sustainable they could eliminate Craigslist notifications if needed.
- This is a Craigslist-only solution. This specific test only monitors Craigslist; it won’t catch posts to other sites. However, other sites – like listing sites – can open the scammer up to other fraud checks if, for example, they require payment; these checks aren’t infallible, but they create more hoops to jump through. I’m still looking for the best way to catch fraudulent posts outside of Craigslist; in the interim, I’ve set up a Google Alert to try to cover myself elsewhere (I’ll report out on that test at a later date).
- The scammer has to be pretty lazy. The nature of these alerts depends on the scammer copy-pasting your home info verbatim (or at least including the specific phrase that you’re monitoring); if they change the text, the triggers won’t work. However, from my experience, scammers often are lazy. They copy-paste existing info and they’re not going to spend time re-writing it.
I recommend that everyone set up IFTTT to monitor Craigslist, and create a Google Alert to potentially catch anything on other sites. While there are limitations, the tools are free and took just minutes to set up. That coverage is better than nothing!