Classified ads: when scams are advertised

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protecting data

Classifieds websites are more and more popular these days. Most of them are totally free and have a huge traffic of people, often in the location we are interested into, who visit them every day looking for a good bargain. Craigslist, Gumtree, Vivastreet, Locanto and eBay Classifieds just to name a few of them in the UK.

On a classifieds site you can find pretty much everything advertised and the advertisers are often regular people. Or at least they can pretend to be! The biggest challenge of a buyer on such a website is to understand who the seller is and what their intentions are. That is probably even more important than the quality of the product/service!

We had a chat with the guys at – Free ads in UK , a British classified ads project, and they gave us some interesting tips on personal online safety when buying something second-hand or contacting someone for a job or service.

The golden rule is common sense. Let’s face it, most people lack of it nowadays! The first and most obvious thing to do is checking the ad text: pictures can be misleading at a first glance, better check what it is stated in the advert. Does it sound good or trustworthy?

If the honest answer is Yes, well, try to consider if what is offered is too good or too cheap to be true: if it looks so, well probably it is! That does not mean that you cannot make a good deal on a classifieds site, but you have to be aware.

Try to find out more about the sale and the seller: how he or she used the object, why they decided to give it away, the real condition of it and so on. You can take advantage of technology. Some users looking for a flat, asked the landlord to make a video-call via Skype to show them the rooms and the garden: it is free, easy and gives a good hint of what you will actually find once (and if) you visit the place. Remember, some people, especially real estate agents, are excellent photographers!

So, in a nutshell: if you read, see or somehow perceive something dodgy, stay away from that ad and advertiser. In case of doubts, it can be useful to google the seller’s name or the product (add some details to refine your search) and see if someone else has had problems in the past. Scammers tend to be repetitive and apply always a similar cheating style.

The last, in order of time, step is crucial: the transfer of money. Most classifieds sites do not allow payments between users on their platforms: their users, both sellers and buyers, are based in a specific location and can meet in a public place to complete the exchange or sale. If you are requested a bank transfer before seeing the object, this can be a fist signal of a possible scam: classified sites are not e-commerce platforms, so you have no warranties against frauds!

The bank transfer itself can be used as evidence, but it could be really difficult to see your money back. Even worse are “alternative” methods, sometimes cheaper but also more difficult to track. The typical example is the top up on a mobile phone number or on a prepaid card. Of course, no paying method is a scam itself, but the ones listed above can help a scammer get away with it.

If possible, meet the seller in a public place, see the object, and pay cash only when you are happy about the product and once you have checked it is as advertised. Remember, saying No is always an option!

The New Right to be Forgotten

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The right to be forgotten might sound familiar. It didn’t start with Beyoncé’s inopportune candid camera shot so famously being “pulled from the internet.” Rather, the right to be forgotten is a political stance that states that after a certain amount of time, it is an individual’s right to start anew. It stems from the idea that mistakes do not define us and that we all have the right to reinvent ourselves if we choose.

This notion is as important as ever today, with the internet being a new form of stone in which so many petty offences will be permanently set. A whole generation is growing up with access to a public forum, and while it makes for precocious and well-informed youth, it also allows them an outlet never seen before. Will Smith’s son, Jaden, for example, recently deleted his Twitter, which was a constant source of ridicule. One has to wonder though, what merit there was in making fun of a teenager who probably wasn’t old or wise enough to know deep from a puddle. But this is the condition that many Westerners are in right now. Children can so easily log onto the internet, put something forth, and be completely dressed down for their perceived stupidity when it’s in fact, just run of-the-mill juvenile ignorance showing in public.

Those of us who are a little older and spent our formative years without access to any sort of spotlight, still know the sting of being the idiot in the room, asking the stupid question. Many of us raised our hands in confidence only to be laughed out of a discussion about Shakespeare. Tons of us lobbied for the coolest most amazing pair of shoes, or that haircut we absolutely just had to have, and wound up looking ridiculous. The difference is, those of us who predate Facebook and Instagram have the luxury of shutting away those mistakes. They will be forgotten. We have the right to do that because those moments, despite being public in our communities, were private to the world.

Children these days are fast losing that luxury. Embarrassments become defining moments that can be dredged up again and again no matter how hard a person tries to overcome them. While the practicality of any legal right to forget is almost inconceivable, the philosophical and social aspect of the idea should still speak loudly to those of us who know how silly youth can be. It’s something we should fight for, to protect those who don’t yet know how damaging posting a dumb picture or a silly rant can be.

To younger people, the internet is taken for granted. It’s an extension of their social lives and nothing more. It cannot be seen that way though. It’s far too accessible to be held in such innocent regard. It’s not enough to tell a kid to be careful anymore. We need to fight for, at the very least, a social right to be judged separately from our past indiscretions and to keep our social lives to ourselves. If we don’t, ten years from now, we could see a potential senator’s Vine all over CNN, from that time he tried the Kylie Jenner challenge (here some excellent reasons why you SHOULD NOT try it!), and honestly as funny as it would be, it would still be entirely unfair.

What the Web Knows About Us

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Private data issues

                Googling your own name is always a bit of an adventure. You might already know some of what you’ll find, but generally, people are always surprised at just how much information there is. It’s a novelty for most, since usually whatever does come up isn’t much of a shock to us, but we should be worried that it is so easy to just enter a name and get information. Clicking the ‘image’ option on Google can often yield a pretty spot-on result. For those of us who do want to maintain an online presence, striking the balance between informative and invasive can be difficult.

                It’s almost a matter of philosophy when figuring out how much privacy we are owed from the internet. On the one hand, many of us feel that privacy is a right – the right to be ourselves and maintain a level of discretion allowing us to operate with the assumption that only those closest to us know the best and worst of our lives. On the other hand, there’s more pressure every day to maintain an online presence, in an almost narcissistic pursuit of followers.

                Millennials have been the worst affected so far, being the first generation to have virtually their entire lives lived “IRL” and online. At one end of the scale, people had to adapt to Facebook or Myspace, and are generally more discerning about what goes online. At the other end, the youngest of the generation, it only makes sense to constantly update the world on what exactly they are eating for lunch. Consummating a relationship these days for the younger generation actually means changing your FB status. So, for now, the web knows a whole lot about each and every one of us, and that should be scary.

                This new public way of living affects our day-to-day lives now, with work life and home life blurring and teachers and bosses being able to punish people for off the clock offenses. An employee might have been the face of the company at work ten years ago, but now, all it takes is a status change on LinkeIn to become a walking symbol. A student might get in trouble for venting about a particularly rough day.

                In short, the internet knows a whole lot about us. Of course, it matters more if people are interested, but it should always be a concern that if they are interested, all that information is just sitting there ready to be found. As a society, it’s never been more important to stay guarded, stay private, and live your life for yourself because, as a society, we’ve never lived our lives more publicly.

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Mmm…Cookies! How can Something so Tasty be so Dangerous?

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These days, few browsers allow automatic cookies. It’s an almost archaic practice that involved letting a server know what you were up to and what you get up to before, during, and after visiting your website. With the advent of HTML5, there are new and far less invasive ways to store user data, and yet cookies persist. However, they aren’t bad in and of themselves. Netflix, for example, uses cookies to compute user preferences and keep track of what you’ve watched and what you’re watching. With privacy being such a hot topic – and the NSA ruled unlawful in monitoring phone calls – just what is the deal with cookies?

Cookies in and of themselves are not harmful, but rather, quite useful. They’re basically how your browser communicate with a server, letting a website know that it is you coming back to visit. The problem is, of course, that they have been seen as insecure methods of transmitting data. HTML5 provides alternative, using local storage as well, in encrypted forms and unencrypted forms.

The real problem though, is not what cookies do, but how they’re used. Cookies store information about you, your name and what you’ve been up to, and are used to populate websites based on information you’ve provided. While that can be innocuous, some see it as invasive.

The invasiveness comes from the fact that websites can access your cookies and track where you’ve navigated from and where you navigate to. Why should have any idea that I went to directly after reading an article about pitbulls? Is that any of their business? It might not be overt at first, but this is generally how you’re being tracked when you navigate to websites and see in the sidebars that friends from Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook have also read these articles. It’s neat on the face of it, but deeply invasive when you think about it. If you can see where they’ve been, who can see where you’ve been? These websites also track your activity and apply algorithms to lure you to other pages where they benefit from your views.

For most people this means very little. It means that you see your friends pop up in weird places on the web every now and then. It’s incredibly easy to combat if you are worried though. Clearing your cookies is as simple as going into your browser settings or viewing your browser history to clear your data. If you want to limit tracking entirely, (and don’t mind entering passwords every time you view a website, which is much more secure anyway), you can simply browse in your browser’s incognito or private mode. This mode doesn’t keep cookies, but it does allow other websites to share information about your browsing history should you log in anywhere, so you do still need to be careful. For example, if you spend a day on Amazon browsing unsavoury items while logged in, even in incognito mode, they’ll still show up in your recommended purchases the next time you log in. Staying logged out though, does help maintain your anonymity and privacy.

The good news is that internet privacy is under scrutiny and these practices are coming under fire. For now though, it’s generally a good idea to make sure that you aren’t navigating from anywhere too embarrassing in between checking your Facebook homepage. If you’re ever worried though, CCleaner is an excellent program for scheduling regular cookie dumps, and you can always manually clear anything you aren’t keen on the rest of the world seeing.

Protecting Your Personal Data

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Living life in public has never been so easy. Social media makes it quick and efficient to share even our most private moments with strangers. What do you do when you don’t want all that to be at the mercy of a surreptitious keystroke? Is there a way to protect your personal data?

Many are divided on this issue since it is fundamentally a question of privacy. However, make no mistake: social media has no duty to uphold your personal privacy. In fact, most social media websites are run on a business model that makes you the product. Your information leads to directed advertising, directed spam, email lists, even telemarketing calls. Gaining unlawful access to this information is known as phishing, and it can be very difficult to avoid.

Protecting yourself might seem daunting at first, but there are a few things you can do to combat phishing.
We were all there when celebrity nudes were leaked. Whether you looked or not, you knew that there was a security breach that called into question a data giant. If even Apple is susceptible, how can anybody feel safe? The first step is, of course, to change your settings to be sure that not just any information is being uploaded to the almighty cloud. Having the ability to backup files is amazing, but not every file need be backed up in such accessible way. Think of the cloud as a humongous library computer with infinite capacity. You might not be able to get into every file, but anybody has access to at the very least try. With that in mind, it only makes sense to try as best as you can to keep sensitive files to yourself. If you really need to back things up, physical drives are a much more secure option.

Many websites and services now require quite elaborate passwords and many people find it easiest to just stick with one. Doing this might seem easier, but it can lead to an even easier phishing success. Never use the password for your main email address or online banking accounts for anything else, and even those should not be the same. Whenever possible, passwords should be unique and you should make use of all security options available to you. ING/Tangerine has a very secure method requiring a PIN, a question, a password, and a specific image. It might sound like overkill, but being the victim of personality theft is as easy as setting a quick-pay option on Amazon or PSN with a common password. Resolving all of that mess is not fun and you aren’t always guaranteed your losses.

The final way to protect your personal data is of course to abstain from providing it. There is a lot of pressure to live openly, in a Google-able way, where anybody could find anything about you if they only looked. That isn’t their right or your duty, nor is it the right of any corporation of government body. What you do have the right to is privacy. You can certainly engage in the online community in a completely anonymous way if you so choose, and if it suits you, don’t be swayed by those around you. If anything, Googling a buddy’s name and showing them just how embarrassing it can be is a powerful enough tool to keep your friends off your back.

Keeping Track of your online persona

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How to protect personal data

You might have experienced this before: a person comes up to you at a party and they introduce themselves. You introduce yourself right back and they say something like, oh yeah, they recognise you from so-and-so’s vacation pictures. You say that was a great time and you move on, happy to have made a new friend.

It might seem innocent, but let’s examine that interaction a little closer. A person has come to you because they saw a picture of you somewhere online, and moreover, a picture that doesn’t even belong to you. Would you feel as comfortable if the situation were different? What if it were a potential boss? What if the picture showed you partying, or wearing something inappropriate?

It’s very easy to forget how openly we all live now as compared to life before the internet. There are ways to combat it, and no, going off the grid isn’t an answer. Not having an online presence is sometimes as suspicious as having a bad a one. So what can you do to protect your privacy in an era where privacy seems to be disappearing?

Privacy settings are invaluable tools to keep your life under wraps. If you’ve ever hear the idiom, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product, then you’re probably at least partially aware that websites like Facebook and even Reddit, make money on compiling and selling your information to companies that only seek to sell you things. But, in many countries, simply clicking agree does not entitle them to anything of yours. The best practice when signing up for any social media website, is to check the privacy settings and set them to your best preference. You usually can’t disallow everything, but in Facebook, for example, you can make your profile so private that not even Google can find it. This might seem trivial to most people, but when applying for a job or a mortgage, pictures of spring break aren’t what you want popping up when people type your name into the search bar.

Now, you can’t strictly control where your image appears, but at the very least, you can protect your name and your information. Your face may show up, but if you aren’t tagged, the result won’t show up in a search. Facebook lets you not only untag yourself, but prevent other people from tagging you in the first place.

So, then, you might be wondering what the issue is at all if there are so many features to help you stay hidden. The fact is they’re generally not the default because these services and companies bank on you not having the patience to go through your settings to actually turn them all off. In reality though, it takes at most ten minutes, depending on how private you want to make your profiles, and is always worth it. It might seem trivial, but the best way to figure out just where you need a bit of protection is to Google yourself. You might be surprised at what comes up.

Recognising and Avoiding Spam

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With so many free online services available today, it is more tempting than ever to give out your email address. When the internet first really started getting popular, people were advised to keep their email addresses as secret as their phone numbers, since that information in the wrong hands could lead to an awful lot of spam. That advice sounds antiquated now, since hey, it’s just my email, who cares? Well, there’s more to it than that and here are some ways you can avoid all that spam constantly clogging up your inbox.

The first thing you can do is exploit a few neat features that come with nearly all email accounts. If you have gmail, you should know that you can manipulate your email address when you sign up to track who sends you what. Dots don’t matter in gmail email addresses and you can add a sort of label by adding a + after the user name like this: becomes Both would go to the same address, but Gmail has excellent filters and labels for easy sorting.

If you don’t use gmail, you can also change your user name to the name of the company in order to track who your information is going to. It can also help you to sort your mail, since most clients have filtering options. You could also us a false name for any website you’re not sure of. Maybe you’re James Ford (haha a Lost joke) for every website you don’t quite trust. You could then filter your messages based on that name, so that anything addressed to it bypasses your inbox. It would let you know who sells your information and who doesn’t too.

If none of those seem really good enough, there are disposable email services available as well, though that’s yet another service to be wary of. There are however, many to choose from meaning you could potentially try a different one for every service you use, so as not to get predictable, if you’re worried about that sort of thing.

But, even if you’re diligent and careful, you probably receive a few daily newsletters from companies you frequent. Maybe you get a coupon every now and then and decided that it was worth it. If you’re anything like me, you’re actually subscribed to quite a few. That might not be for everybody, and for those who can’t remember why on Earth they signed up to receive the daily Jelly Belly report and have it pushed directly to their phone, unsubscribing from them can actually be pretty easy. In general, these sorts of emails have unsubscribe sections way at the bottom, where you would probably never see them, and they will usually work.

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Making the Best of an Online Ad

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Spam on online ads

So you found the perfect TV stand on Kijiji and the seller is only looking for half your budget. How do you proceed? Do you bombard them with messages letting them know you’re the guy? Do you send them a polite email asking if they’re still looking to sell? What do you do? What do you do?

Well, that definitely depends on which website you’re using. There are tons of classifieds and listing websites these days, each with their own philosophy and their own etiquette. Craigslist is very open, kind of the weathered hippy of the bunch, where just about everything goes. You can get stuff, you can get jobs, you can get people. Kijiji is a little bit more professional, but only because it seems like everybody but you is paying to be heard. Then there’s eBay, with its high-paced bidding system giving you anxiety and buyers’ remorse when you realise that your crazy rage-bid is actually going to win.

The point is, each listing and classifieds website has its own method to win. The best possible approach is to start by reading the website rules if there are any to ensure that your messages or bids won’t be automatically filtered out. The second step is being quick and being diligent. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for – property or a date – ads are posted much faster than you could ever respond or even really see all of. You can, however, make a dent by making good use of the filters provided and understand each category.

Once all that is done, formulating a good message is the next big step. Different levels of formality are required for different situations, but good grammar, good spelling, and decently correct language is usually a good idea for anything more important that Billy Joe’s old rims. For jobs and property especially, it’s an excellent idea to have a few canned responses ready in your email (you can do this with most clients), in order to quickly and efficiently respond to as much as possible.

However, as with anything online, be sure to only include personal information that you’re comfortable making public. As careful as you can be, you’re still communicating with strangers and there’s always a chance that they could be gathering your information for reasons you don’t particularly agree with. If you’re the type who responds to personals, this is incredibly important, and not just for women. If planning to meet, make sure it’s somewhere in public for the first time, with many people around and that at least one person you trust knows what you’re doing and where you’ll be. It might seem silly, but it is much safer in the end. Anonymity on the internet makes it the perfect place for predators.

But, to end on a less somber note, classifieds websites are somewhat of a boon. Anybody familiar with videogames will tell you that one of the best features is the ability to sell whatever you don’t need for some quick cash to buy something else you don’t need but really really want. So, happy scouring!


For an extra treat, check out! All the benefits of Kijiji and Craigslist but everything is free!

Scam Artist Playground

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Online Safety

Craigslist seems to have gotten itself a few reputations over the years. Some know it as the place where you can get anything for anything. Some know it for the missed connections section which can be thrilling, creepy, and downright hilarious. A lot more people though, have grown wary of the openness of the site and how its anonymity attracts scammers and con artists looking to leech off of the less-informed.

Why Craigslist and similar websites like Kijiji and eBay have become breeding grounds for scammers is obvious. It’s very difficult to track just who is posting and even easier to prey on desperate people just trying to earn a little money. Furthermore, there are so many sections so well laid out, that it’s incredibly easy to target any particular kind of person, saving scammers time on finding just the right mark. Many scams do indeed just go for low-hanging fruit, trying to con people out of their items much in the way a pawn shop would, and for those transgressions, it’s easy to give the website a pass. However, the schemes do get incredibly elaborate and it’s the ones that prey on the most desperate and least able to defend themselves that really stand out.

In particular, among the job boards is a scam involving an ad that, for all intents and purposes looks legitimate. Generally it will be in the human resources section, the office administration section, or the general help/labour sections. The ad comes in many forms but is always pretty similar: businessman looking for a secretary, receptionist, or personal assistant to help with daily office tasks. On the face of it, it seems pretty innocuous but many young students have fallen for the con. You send an email and receive, in return, an email asking for your address or a P.O. Box where you can exchange goods for money. Surprise surprise, they also need your bank information so they can wire you the money to get started. No employer ever needs anything more than contact information until they actually hire you.

It’s absolutely abhorrent since this type of scammer preys on poor students who are new to the job market and don’t know how to protect themselves yet or people who are so desperate they’d do just about anything.

Another one, involving employment, is the from-home sales consultant which is invariably a pyramid scheme or straight-up fraud. Telemarketers are also all over Craigslist looking for “shooters.” A shooter is generally just a cold call agent and is not only an absolutely awful job by itself, but generally only quasi-legal if legal at all. Of course, there are more reputable ways to find jobs, but many people, businesses included, rely on the ease and ubiquity of Craigslist and Kijiji.

If you are looking for employment in particular, it’s important to keep your resume to yourself until you’re sure that the person contacting you is actually an employer. A friendly inquiry with only basic information sent using the website’s secure message system is an excellent way to make very sure that you’re contacting a legitimate business.

This isn’t to say you can’t use these sorts of websites to your advantage. Knowing about these scams can help you navigate through the unsavoury ads and find the gems.

Staying Safe When Posting Online Ads

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How to be safe online

Chances are at one point in your life you’ve looked through your stuff and thought, gee, I bet I could make some money on some of this junk! Not too long ago, your options would have been pretty limited to garage sales, pawn shops, and the classifieds section. With the advent of the internet though, it’s easier than ever to buy and sell thing online. Easier doesn’t always mean safer though. Posting an Ad online opens you up to contact from just about anybody, and there are ways to keep yourself safer.

First of all, choose a reputable website. Kijiji, Craigslist, and eBay are the big ones and they have lots of services available to newbies. Specific message boards and forums are another option for niche items like rare collectibles and even plants. For most items though, a listing service like Craigslist will have all the exposure you need. If you’re worried about the interface, the fact that so many people do frequent the websites means that there are always tutorials and guides on how and where to post your items.

Once you know where you want to post it, formulate a brief ad that gives only relevant information. You generally won’t have to display any information that you aren’t comfortable giving out — such as phone number and email address — and this is explicitly to protect your privacy. However, ads with phone numbers do tend to do better, so if you do post your number, be sure that it’s a number that belongs to you and that you’re comfortable sharing. Most classifieds websites are free to post on, but you can pay for premium services like hiding your information. While it’s not strictly necessary to guard against human spammers, it is a helpful option for guarding against bots that collect email addresses and phone numbers for spam purposes.

While creating your ad, use proper grammar and language, as that not only makes your ad seem more professional, but will generally be more appealing to people looking to buy. A poorly written ad can alert spammers to an inexperienced user, who could then become a target. Spammers do tend to look for people who seem confused or poorly versed in what they’re doing since those ‘marks’ are easiest to con. A well-written ad lets potential con artists know that you know what you’re doing and that you can’t be tricked into anything too easily.

Finally, keep track of your ad and be sure to make any necessary changes as they arise. This is not just to keep your potential customers abreast of the situation, but it will also limit the amount of time your ad is up. Generally, you will have to post it a few times unless you’re paying to be featured, and each one of those posts needs to be taken down once you’ve finally sold your item — especially if you’re including any personal information.

It’s important to remember that posting any information anywhere is always a risk to your privacy, not just online, but using these tips can help you create a tolerable level of security.