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Identifying a Scam on Craigslist

Among the best places to find great deals on games is Craigslist, the online flea market that focuses on facilitating local, in-person transactions.  Some of my best collection pieces came from great deals with strangers that lived within 10 minutes of my home.  Alas, as usual, scammers are out to ruin the fun for everybody.  Here’s a list of four scams that can be found on Craigslist and how to avoid them smartly…and safely!

1. Counterfeit Goods

The most common scam you’ll have to watch out for as a retro game collector is counterfeit games.  The gist of this scam is that a seller attempts to sell you a set of games that appear to be valuable titles but are actually common games whose labels have been replaced to make them look like better ones.  Alas, I have been fooled by this scam twice, once in person and once indirectly. :-/

The first time this happened I was unprepared for it as I’d never run into this kind of thing before.  I’d found two separate Craigslist postings, one for Battletoads & Double Dragon (NES) at $40 and one for Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (SNES) at $70.  Thinking myself astute, I noticed they were both from the same seller.  I contacted him and made an offer of $100 for both.  They could sell them in one transaction and I get a little bit of a deal in the form of $10 off.  I even offered to drive 30 minutes to meet them!

The transaction went fine.  The seller handed me both games, each in their own Ziploc bag.  I took out the SNES game and felt it. The label felt rubbery to the touch.  It’s hard to explain, but the look of the labels wasn’t quite right either.  Unfortunately, I chalked it up to the fact that I’d never seen either game in person and both were late entries to their systems’ lineup.  Still, during the long drive home, I had a knot in my stomach wondering if they might not be right…

When I got home, I grabbed my lamp and took a closer look.  Yes, something was odd.  The labels felt “thick” and there were some air bubbles.  Real games never have air bubbles in their labels. I plugged Ninja Gaiden Trilogy into my SNES and…oh god…it was WWF RAW.  My heart sunk at the realization: I’d been scammed.  I picked at the labels and found they came off easily.  Also, at the very bottom left of each, in tiny lettering, both said they were “reproduction labels.”  It was a poor scam…but it worked because I was unsuspecting and failed to take a close enough look.  I haven’t been scammed since, but fell victim again many months later when a buddy and I split a deal and the games he picked up ended up being counterfeit, too.  Just take a look at how effective a lousy job can be if you don’t check carefully:

Youd only need a few seconds to notice the inaccurate printing and terribly-cut corners and know this is a fake, but thats only if you looked in the first place.

You’d only need a few seconds to notice the inaccurate printing and terribly-cut corners and know this is a fake, but thats only if you looked in the first place.

The worst part about these counterfeits is the danger that the seller might be armed and ready to protect themselves if their scam goes wrong.  It could be dangerous to even point it out, although you should.  At the end of this article, I’ll give you a bulletproof way to avoid this kind of scam forever that will also keep you safe from potential danger!

2. PayPal Offers

PayPal is a common and efficient way to handle financial transactions securely and without cash.  I’ve used it when meeting with friends who want to sell high-priced items and I didn’t have enough cash on me.  It’s also the #1 payment method on eBay.  However, there’s a couple dangers to look out for when it comes to this non-physical payment system.

First is a burgeoning scam that targets cars more than anything but can be used in just about any ruse.  Let’s say you’re selling a big ticket item on Craigslist such as a large N64 bundle for, say, $400.  A buyer contacts you and says they are very interested in what you’re selling and will buy it no questions asked.  Heck, they don’t even need to come see it!  So they tell you they’re going to pay you via PayPal and send a buddy to come and pick it up for them.  As a seller, this is great!  No need to haggle, an easy sale…so you say yes.  The buyer says their friend is on their way and they will pay you now.  A minute later an email comes in saying the buyer has paid.  Perfect.  When the friend arrives, you hand him the N64 at the door and your transaction is complete.

What do you think the con was?  Exactly.  That email confirmation.  You see, the friend was a ruse.  In fact, the person who picked up your item was probably the person emailing you in the first place.  The reason why they paid you in advance with PayPal is because that email confirmation was fake!  It wasn’t sent by PayPal, it was just made to look like it was.  In reality, you got no money at all and you just handed your precious goods to a stranger for free.

Luckily, it’s easy to snuff this one out as it’s odd for a buyer to not want to inspect the merchandise before buying.  My brother recently had this scam attempted on him while trying to sell his SUV for $13,000.  It’s really, really hard to imagine someone wanting to buy a car without giving it a test drive, ya know?

3. Broken Merchandise

In the old days, video game systems and cartridges were built like iron.  It took a lot to break em!  Nowadays, an XBox 360 or PS3 can see their lasers die pretty easily.  So, what do you do if the laser breaks on your system?  You could send it to Sony to repair for $120 or…you could sell it to an unsuspecting buyer for the same price!  This happens more than you realize, too, because 80% of the time Craigslist transactions happen between two strangers in a public place who have no way of tracking each other down after the sale. (If you’re lucky, you can do a reverse lookup on their phone number.  I tracked down the first person who scammed me this way.  You’d be surprised how nervous people are when you text them their home address.  My money was returned to me via PayPal shortly thereafter. Bua ha ha.)

In an ideal world, as a buyer, you can get confirmation that the item you’re buying works.  If it’s a system, seeing it plugged in and playing a cartridge or disc is proof.  If you’re buying a game, testing them out on a working system is what you want to do.  Obviously, you can’t always do this and, if you want to get the best deals, sellers won’t want to invest the time to do this just to make a few bucks.  You’ll have to take a chance sometimes or lose your great deal.  For older systems, you can do this, but you should never bet a lot of cash on a laser-based system.

Later, I’ll give you a little tip on how to get confirmation that a system works without making the seller invite you to their house.

4. The Professional Counterfeits

Earlier, I discussed a scam where game labels are counterfeited to make $5 games look like $100 games.  These are crushing to fall for.  However, a similar scam may be one you’ve fallen for already and not even realized!

In China, there’s huge business in knockoff goods.  You see these everywhere at flea markets if you’ve ever seen vendors sell Beats by Dr. Dre. (Note the Dr. portion, which is not part of the official Beats by Dre brand.)  Similarly, there’s a market for selling accurate knockoff versions of popular and high-value games.  The most notorious are the Pokemon (GBA) games.  These little fakes are everywhere!  I know a counterfeiter who bought a whole box of these for $3 a piece and, honestly, you could sit down and analyze them all day and not be able to tell it’s fake.  The only way you can reasonably do it is to put it side by side with a known authentic version.  Plenty of guides are out there for identifying fake Pokemons, and I highly recommend you read several of these before purchasing GBA games in the future.  In fact, you might want to check the games you have right now!

real-vs-fake-emerald-back-of-cartridge

My best advice for this one, honestly, is to avoid dealing with Pokemon GBA titles.  If you have copies already, just be happy with those.  If you’re going to play with fire, however, be well-read on the topic and keep a discerning eye!

How to Avoid Being Scammed

The best way to avoid being scammed is to be cognizant of what’s out there waiting for you and taking the steps necessary to confirm that you’re not being fooled.  Identifying counterfeit items and authenticating that the buyer’s method of payment is legit are the most important things you can do.  The way you do this is by checking all of the items involved in the transaction carefully.  Are the game labels clean and original?  Does the cash pass all the verifications?  Is that PS3 able to play Blu-Ray discs as well as just DVD’s?  If you make sure to check all these things you’re going to be fine.

Since verifying consoles can be difficult if you’re meeting someone in a public place, a little tip for checking if a system works is to have the seller send you video of the it hooked up to a TV.  Have the seller film the console working and then bring the camera in to capture the model # on the bottom or back of the device.  By verifying the model # of the system they bring with them to the sale, you can be reasonably sure that it works as advertised.  This isn’t a perfect solution, but if you lack other options it’s a good failsafe.

As I alluded to earlier, identifying a scam may save you from wasting your money, but it may not keep you safe.  You may not pay that $300 cash for the broken PS4, but you still have a lot of cash in your pocket and the seller might go to Plan B: robbery.  Some advice to mitigate this risk is to tell the seller up front that you’re going to be verifying that the items work correctly and are not counterfeit by inspecting each one carefully.  By letting them know this before you meet up, I guarantee you that they will save their time and effort and move on to an easier mark.  They won’t risk their once-in-a-while scam on a smart buyer.  In the end, you save your hard-earned money, your valuable time, and above all else you avoid putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.

I once had a friend say they always bring a firearm to deals like this for protection.  You should do that if you’re comfortable.  However, unless you plan on pulling the gun on every seller when you introduce yourself, realize that you won’t be in a good situation if a gun is pulled on you first.

Stay safe out there!

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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