Once upon a time online dating was something that people did in secret. No one talked about it because it was such a new concept that you never knew how people would respond. Before online dating was a thing, people took out personal ads in newspapers in hopes of attracting potential love interests or no strings attached hookups.
When Craigslist came along they offered an area on their site called Casual Encounters, which was a place where people could post messages in hopes of meeting people for relationships or casual sex. As with everything else on Craigslist, the Casual Encounters section was totally anonymous. This worked for some people and posed challenges for others. That anonymity was the perfect playground for online dating scammers, too.
From Craigslist Casual Encounters to Missed Connections
Back in 2018 Craigslist took down the Casual Encounters section of their site to prevent the section from being used for sex trafficking. Since there was no governance of the section and no requirement to reveal identities in advance, it was easy for young girls to be swept up in sex trafficking schemes upon showing up for a casual encounter.
Though the Casual Encounters section no longer exists, Craigslist still offers the Missed Connections section of the site, which can be found under the Community section. Missed Connections functions like a community message board for people looking to reconnect with other people that they might have met before. It could be as simple as someone who had a nice smile at Trader Joe’s, or it can be a regular bar patron from ten years ago. This is a place where people post messages in hopes of finding people they’ve met before, but it’s also a place to meet new people.
Ideal Places For Scammers
Like the Casual Encounters space, Missed Connections has become the place where anonymous users post messages hoping to meet people. They’re usually very specific requests, like looking for dates for events or looking for people who share interests.
One of the challenges with using Craigslist to meet people, especially for hookups and other brief sexual encounters, is that there is no oversight to offer any kind of protection. Users are anonymous and they could pose as one person but be someone completely different in real life. That makes it the ideal place for scammers to find their victims.
How The Scammers Work
When it comes to online dating scams, the most common dating scam revolves around money. A scammer will pose as a prospective love interest and when things move into a comfortable space the relationship shifts and the scammer starts working to take money from his victim.
Small Requests Lead To Big Headaches
More often than not the scammer starts with a small request to test the water. It could be a request for money for taxi fare, or perhaps a small loan because of a delay with a paycheck. Scammers make it sound innocent, like a favor from a friend, and if the potential victim takes the bait they will attempt to try for bigger things.
It’s not uncommon for scammers to start asking for larger sums of money to help with “emergency” situations that involve their family or friends. Some of these sudden emergency situations include being held for ransom in foreign countries or paying off outstanding debts before something bad happens. They might even ask for gift cards that can be sent to their family friends in need. Craigslist makes this very easy for scammers because they can remain anonymous and become anyone they want to be, so when they come at their victims with stories of family members in need there’s no way to verify if it’s real.
Unfortunately, more often than not it’s all fake. There are no family members in need. It’s all a sham to lure kindhearted and well-meaning individuals into their traps.
Tracking Scammers Is A Challenge
Scammers have been able to hone their craft over the years and Craigslist and other personal ad websites or message boards make it so easy because there are far fewer login requirements.
With dating sites like eHarmony or Match, or even hookup sites like Adult Friend Finder, users must have an account that can be traced back to an email address or IP address. With Craigslist there are so many users that tracking people down takes so much time that the scammers are long gone before an investigation can get underway.
How To Stay Safe With Craigslist
As with every other dating or casual encounter site out there, the best way to protect yourself is to be smart. If something sounds fishy, it probably is.
When it comes to Craigslist, whether it’s meeting someone for sex or selling a car, it always pays to be careful. There’s a reason people meet at police station parking lots to exchange goods on Craigslist: You wouldn’t invite a complete stranger into your home to sell something, so why give a complete stranger money with no compelling reason to do so.
Don’t Give Personal Information To Strangers
If you meet someone in the Missed Connections section, make sure you go through the normal introduction stages. Exchange emails, and if all goes well then you can move to a phone conversation. After a phone conversation it would be safe to meet in person, perhaps for dinner or in a public space. At that point you should be good to go.
The red flags should start waving when the person you’ve met on Craigslist has reasons to avoid phone calls or in person meetings. After all, the whole point of a hookup site is to actually get together, right? Sometimes you can talk to someone on the phone but they have numerous reasons why they can’t meet, and those reasons are usually tied to why they need to borrow money.
If someone asks for personal information like credit card numbers or Social Security data, report them to the authorities. You wouldn’t give this information to some stranger on the street, so why give it to a stranger on the web? Anyone who asks for this information is up to no good.
Don’t Excuse Their Excuses Not To Meet
Scammers know better than to meet you in person. Remaining anonymous allows them to keep scamming people, after all, and they usually operate in networks that make phone conversations possible should their scam originate from overseas.
The vast majority of online dating scammers are based in foreign countries, so there was never a snowball’s chance in the world that you were ever going to meet in the first place. They have people who can make phone calls and handle the online conversations and chats while the money and gift cards are routed to overseas bank accounts and address, and together these teams lure in their victims and hope that they find people to become their prey.
The Bottom Line
Scams are possible in almost every corner of daily life, but that shouldn’t keep you from going out and enjoying life and meeting people. It just means you have to be safe and be smart.
Craigslist Missed Connections and the former Craigslist Casual Encounters sites are both viable means of meeting new people, either for a fling or for something more meaningful. If you meet someone, take time to ask questions. When you meet, meet in public before going somewhere privately. Let a friend know where you’re going and with whom, and have a check-in phone call to confirm that things are going well.
The rules of online dating apply to every dating site. Never make assumptions based on profiles or how a person “seems” during conversations. Be smart and stay safe, and you’ll have much more fun.
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