Anatomy of an internet scam

I recently put this ad on kijiji to sell my piano:

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 11.20.36 AM

Within a few hours, I received this response (gray: him; green: me)

Untitled drawing

I realize by now that this guy is a scammer, but I wanted to see how far he was going to go, so I kept up the convo.

Untitled drawing copy

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 11.53.25 AM
In my email, I get this message from “PayPal” which looks pretty official, right?


So basically, the scam is this: If I want my money for the piano, I need to send the “Transport Company” $650.

I sent the scammer this reply:
Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 11.56.30 AM

And that was the last I heard from him. But it makes me wonder how many people fall for these scams. To me, they seem so obvious, but perhaps to others (more gullible, weak English skills, less knowledgeable about internet scams), not so much.

Have you ever been victimized by an internet scam or do you know anyone who has? I have been following with much interest (and horror) to Alec Couros‘ struggles with a Facebook romance scammer who uses his images and Alec is doing a fantastic job trying to educate the public about his plight. Are social media companies and the media doing enough to publicize this issue? What are your thoughts?


12 thoughts on “Anatomy of an internet scam

  1. Thank you Sylvia for the documentation of your experience with a scam. I agree with you that the only way to combat these ever changing scams is by educating others the way you have done here and Alec is continuing to do on his site. I also wonder how people can fall for these types of scams. We simply can’t dismiss HOW technology has changed literacy. Just because someone was/is literate to read and write in an analog life, does not mean they possess the understanding how to read/write/believe/question/ think critically in a digital world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I tried selling my mother’s van on Kijiji, I got some similar. These advance-fee frauds are very typical and cost people millions every year (senior citizens or those with basic internet skills are especially susceptible). There are many different variations but ultimately most rely on the seller having to pay a fee of some sort (whether on shipment, on reimbursing an overpayment, etc.).

    Thanks for sharing. Incidentally, I received an email from another friend this morning who knew that something was up, but they were unsure of what was actually happening.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Alec, thanks very much for leaving a comment. I was tempted to try to scam the scammer somehow, but in the end I decided to just drop it. I wish there was some way to report these snakes preemptively before they succeed in scamming someone else.


    • Another good example, Alec! I believe that senior citizens are the most vulnerable group for such con artists and other phishing scams. I have my Dad trained now to at least forward me any emails or msgs that even seem the slightest suspicious or odd. (BTW – Hope your recent facebook catfishing blog post gets heard by the ‘powers that be’ at facebook so that your identity issues are better addressed…)


  3. Thanks for this post, Sylvia! The detail and screenshots you provide are excellent and this is very useful to anyone wanting to learn more about buying and selling online. I love Mike Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship, and this post is perfect as an example or case study for students learning more in the ‘digital commerce’ element. There are some of his elements that are given a lot of attention in schools, and other that are not. I think the digital commerce one is not often explored as much as it should be. Thanks again for sharing!


  4. Thanks for commenting, Jim! I did a drawing for the elements of digital citizenship that you talked about. I agree with you. It is SO important that everyone learns each element (and that teachers teach awareness of each element)!


  5. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs | doug --- off the record

  6. hi Sylvia
    I am just catching up on your blog – so a bit late I know. But thanks for sharing your scam experience.
    My 18 year old son (and I guess my husband and I also) was scammed last year.
    He was selling a playstation and a heap of games and controllers etc
    A huge parcel. A “buyer” contacted him (from South Africa – alarm bells should have started ringing, but we were ignorant to this) and arranged payment etc. Same as you, my son received the email from “paypal” and so on. But unlike you, we fell for it all – we sent the package to Sth Africa – only to discover two days later that the whole thing was a scam. Fortunately for us, the scammer contacted my son asking whether we received the money for the phone….so we then smelt a rat (we were not selling a phone – this guy was HOT on scams that weekend). Anyway, long story short – we had taken out insurance on the postage so we were able to put in a claim, after the postal service cld not block the package….goodness knows where it is now!
    Lesson learnt!
    Digital literacy and digital “savvy” are so important – and yes, agree with other commenters here, the aged are most definitely vulnerable, but none of us are safe. We need to be vigilant in our interactions – and we need to teach our kids to remain on alert for this stuff…it is a huge crime area already – the police here in Australia were not at all surprised when we spoke to them re this case…


    • hi Sylvia!
      thanks for your swift reply – I have no idea what timezone you are in – but it is 1.15pm here in Melb Aus.

      No, I haven’t got a Professional blog – I know, that is slack. I am not sure that I have much to put out there yet – as I grapple with the day to day of busy teaching life.
      But yes, I have shared the story in my lessons with students. They were horrified that I was tricked into this. I even wrapped the “gift” in Xmas paper and then brown paper! so that it did not stand out in the post….mamma mia! Talk about a fool…
      Ah well – my family have certainly learnt so much from this – my son is ebay ‘scarred’ and my husband is paypal suspicious…

      Thanks also for all your ACE “sketch notes” – you have inspired me – I have downloaded ProCreate and will get a stylus asap. Our school holidays start this week, so I will take my ipad away and “play” – any tips? Yours are SO creative, so I am guessing you are very arty…


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