Experiment on Craigslist: "I found some cash. Did you lose it?"


Rob Cockerham of cockeyed.com is a sociologist provocateur that we've featured quite a few times here on Boing Boing. His experiments never fail to delight and illuminate.

Recently Rob found $60 in parking lot and when he reported it on Craigslist he received three replies. Intrigued, he posted another (this time, ersatz) announcement that he'd found money and wanted to return it to its rightful owner. Look how four "different" people replied to his annoucement:

Catherine: I was shopping at the Mervyns on camp wisdom and three hundred dollard fell out of my wallett it was twenties and one hundreds. It was my kids back to school money and have been loosing my mind. Not sure if you found all of it or part. but please email me back either way. Thank you, Catherine (Fri. 4:36pm)

Jack: My wife and I where shopping at Mervyns and lost 260.00 it was one fifty one ten five twenties and one one hundred dollar bill. We where at the Mervyns on Plano Rd. In Dallas please let me know if you found any part of this money we would greatly appreciate it. (Fri. 4:40pm)

Rob: Hi Catherine, I'm sorry, I found more money than that, so I think it must be someone else's. I am very sorry. Good luck. (Mon 10:30am)

Rob: Hi Jack, I'm sorry, I found the money in the shoe department at the Camp Wisdom Mervyn's store. Good luck. (Mon 10:31am)

Bella: Hello I was shopping at the mervyns on camp wisdom with my family I was in the shoe department and jewlrey department. somewhere in either department I lost three hundred dollars. and I am going out of my mind ! please email me back and let me know if you found it. I have been worried sick. thank you (10:35 am!!)

Rob: Hi Bella, That is the same store where I found the money, but I found almost $800 wrapped in paper. I'm sorry. It might even be from the store itself, so I've been planning to go and ask the manager if their deposit was missing or something. Good luck. (Mon 12:50 pm)

Eric: I saw your post on cl just as I was going to put one up. my boss told me about cl. I lost some money at mervyns on camp wisdom I had just come from the bank and stopped in to get some sneakers. the money I lost is my rent money. it was wrapped in paper and was 780.00 . my wife is needless to say unhappy with me for loosing it. I called the store and no one has turnend it in. if you can email me back. thank you. (Mon 12:54 pm)

Bella: thank you for emailing me back. someone just called me who found my money! so thankfully I got it back.

Rob: Hi Eric, Ok, thanks for writing. I called the store and tried to talk to the manager to see if it might be misplaced or stolen from the register, but she was not available. I hung up after 7 minutes on hold. Anyway, I'm waiting for them to call me back too. I want to be sure I have the right person because it was a lot of money. Can you tell me anything about the paper? -Rob

Eric: It was wrapped in white paper, I am loosing my mind paniking because that was almost my whole pay how could I possibly recoop that you know?

Cockeyed.com presents: You Found my Money!


  1. …This is one of the reasons I avoid any craigslists like the plague. You never know when someone’s scamming you like this. Rob’s one of those bozos who I’d love to give the same black eye to that he’s given to sociology and psychology. He’s about as much an experimenter as the Marquis DeSade was a massage therapist.

    [shakes head in utter dismay]

  2. I expected a lot of people who were obviously trying to rip him off but these are just kind of sad. It’s like he’s giving them false hope. :(

  3. I think the sad thing is that these people didn’t care that they were trying to take money that somebody else lost. Rob’s experiment harmed no one.

  4. These people may have lost money, but when it comes to ‘losing’ they’ve all gained ‘o’s.

  5. Also, this reminds me a similar experiment me and an old roommate did a few years ago.

    We posted an ad in Personals offering a $20 blow job, saying that I was a fair looking girl that needed some extra money for the weekend.

    Within an hour we had 30 responses, all of them hilarious and pathetic. Guys were offering cab fare and even sending their pictures of them standing next to their girlfriends….

    Oh, good times!!

  6. -Sorry, the paper was in fact BLUE.

    Dear sir, I lost $800 in Blue Paper.

    -What was written on the outside of the Paper?


    -Sorry, the words “Monkey Kitty Slappy” were written on the outside of the paper.


    etc, etc.

  7. I don’t see what’s so sociologically provocative about this. Its fairly safe on his end and the results are pretty predictable.

  8. I myself like to post vague missed connections…

    “You had on tight jeans, a faded t-shirt, aviator sun glasses and a chrome messenger bag…you were standing in the corner with your arms crossed, looking disinterested…you were totally hot…”

    Etc etc etc.

    The responses are overwhelming. And no, it’s not nice.

  9. @lobster

    Did you miss what was happening here? The same person was emailing him numerous times from different accounts, each time using the information that he gave the last “person” as a starting point for extracting more information from him, with the eventual goal of being able to exactly describe (and claim) their “lost money”.

  10. Well, at least Rob Cockerham didn’t post e-mail addresses, photos, and other confidential PII like Jason Fortuny (rfjason) did.

  11. #1: He’s scamming about as much as the newspapers that put out wallets with money in them to see who is honest enough to return them.

    So i guess if he’s trying to scam some dishonesty from people, then he’s benefiting.

    what is a unit of dishonesty called?

  12. Wow. These are some odd reactions. Who cares if Rob isn’t a real sociologist? I don’t think he’s claiming to be rigorously scientific about anything. These are entertaining pranks that maybe offer a little insight into the human condition. Not anything to base federal funding or even a college term paper on. And how can you feel sorry for a bunch of desperate liars who were trying to swindle money out of a stranger? Keep going Rob, this stuff is gold!

  13. Rob isn’t trying to scam anyone. Also, I’m the one calling him a sociologist, he probably has a different name to describe what he does.

  14. @10: I didn’t notice that until you mentioned it. Looking at the time stamps helped too. I guess I’m just too trusting. :(

    Hey, while we’re all chatting, could I get someone to look after my house for a few weeks? :D

  15. Great stuff … There’s no false hope here. None of those people actually lost money.

    My uncle’s friend bought a house, and when doing some renovations found $10,000 in cash inside the walls. When you buy a house, you get everything in it – including money hiding in the walls :-P

  16. Reminds me of a few cases when I used to work for a travel insurance assistance service; One client was incensed we would not reimburse her for money she claimed was stolen from her hotel room (what can I say–use traveler’s checks next time?), and others that were upset that they had to produce a doctor’s note if canceling their trip for illness-related reasons. I used to say “if you’re not sick enough to go to the doctor, you’re not sick enough to miss the trip, sorry.”; that may or may not be factually true, but the point is we couldn’t process a claim without documented evidence in support of said claim. Amazed me how many customers just never got this through their thick skulls.

    (fictional dialogue)
    customer: “Evidence? We don’t need no steenkin’ evidence…”
    me: “Sorry, we don’t do faith-based insurance claim settlements”.

  17. Another interesting use of Craig’s List personals is to post creative writing, a sort of short story or narrative, in the message box. I’m sorry I can’t offer an example (I thought I had saved some) but these essays appear every few months. Sometimes I write to the person and tell them what a good writer they are and perhaps this will be an interesting new medium. It’s only a matter of time until “Craig’s List Postings” becomes an assignment in those expensive weekend writing workshops, not to mention high school and college courses. Try it if you’re a struggling writer.

  18. @Antinous: People who aren’t very good at making ethical distinctions are no better than Hitler.

  19. @25 Antinous: Although Rob created a fictional situation, it may be close enough to a real one as to prompt a (hypothetical) accidental victim to give up the search.

    Admittedly, this is extremely unlikely and I personally am not offended by what Rob did; in fact I was quite amused. Still, it might be an issue of concern were he to run this as a proper Sociological Experiment, and I would think a “tag-back” and postmortem explanation would be required.

    Calling this an “experiment” is also a bit silly, even though the adaptiveness of the sequence of responses is notable.

  20. Yes, no one could have had false hope because it’s inconceivable that anyone lost money at Mervyn’s recently.

  21. @Huronbob

    I think you misunderstand the legal meaning of the word “entrapment”; it only applies when law enforcement induces a person to commit a crime that they had no previous desire to commit, and would not have committed otherwise.

    If you leave a pine of gold visible in your open garage, and arrest everybody who walks in and takes some, that’s not entrapment.

    If an undercover officer tells someone about the gold, and they’re not interested, but he keeps bugging them and demanding that they go take some and he arrests them when they finally do, that’s entrapment.

    Rob posted an actual ad about lost money initially, was intrigued by the odd responses he got, and posted a false ad which resulted in him being targeted by a con artist who without encouragement or prompting used multiple pre-prepared email accounts to attempt to scam him out of the money. If he were an officer of the law, and he were to meet and arrest the person in question, it would most certainly not be entrapment.

  22. @celynnen: Well, you know how parties get. Someone made a big batch of egg nog, and before we knew it, Midas had his gloves off and was touching stuff.

    The important thing is, nobody was hurt.

  23. Wow that’s pretty neat, you can tell it’s the same scammer because of the consistently poor spelling and progression of repeating clues.

  24. I think it is worth noting that honest people didn’t write, except to express their praise.

    I got no schemers from Minneapolis, Las Vegas or Seattle.

  25. I wonder if Rob lives in my apartment building – about a month ago I found a $20 on the front stoop, and basically came to the conclusion that the odds of actually discovering who it belonged to were pretty much nil (Even with a “I found money, tell me how much and it’s yours” note, *someone* was gonna guess a $20.) and kept it.

    The next morning, $15 was laying on the floor next to my doormat. I walked on by. It may be paranoia, but I was convinced if I picked it up I’d be entering some bad matrix-esque B-movie plot.

  26. When I saw “folded money”, I immediately thought Mob Guy. And, if Mob Guy responds, you had better fork over the cash, whether or not he’s lying.


  27. NUMBER14@26: I feel I lose money every time I go to Mervyn’s…

    All: How many cheneys does it take to get a mendacity?

  28. @huronbob: You’re pretending to have misunderstood what I said about entrapment for reasons that are known only to you. It’s still a semi-free country, so keep right on doing that as long as you find it entertaining, I guess. If you’re honestly confused, there are plenty of references available online.

    As for your second post, who knows? If BB (like craigslist) was plagued by criminals who spent their time and effort trying to scam the legitimate posters, I suspect that someone who poked fun at them by exposing their activities would be welcomed.

    Finally, your posting history makes it seem like you’re that guy who creates nothing, but sits around complaining about everything that other people have created and then delivered to him for free. Don’t be that guy. Nobody likes that guy.

  29. “Rob isn’t trying to scam anyone. Also, I’m the one calling him a sociologist, he probably has a different name to describe what he does.”

    …Mark, my degree *is* in sociology. What Rob’s doing is detrimental to the field of study, and has about as much scientific validity as studying the effects of coin tossing on cows farting 300 miles away.

  30. HuronBob,

    I think that you missed BDCD’s point.

    Finally, your posting history makes it seem like you’re that guy who creates nothing, but sits around complaining about everything that other people have created and then delivered to him for free. Don’t be that guy. Nobody likes that guy.

    A point which, funnily enough, I have also made to you. Go grind your axe elsewhere.

  31. to OM (#45): I’m curious to know how Rob Cockerham’s (albeit informal) experiment is detrimental to the field of sociological study.

    I don’t know if it’s customary here but I’ll go ahead and link to this xkcd comic which I think is applicable.

    Basically, Rob performed an experiment and published his results. Where’s the detriment?

    “Formally accepted” research has used similar techniques, e.g.

  32. “I think you misunderstand the legal meaning of the word “entrapment”; it only applies when law enforcement induces a person to commit a crime that they had no previous desire to commit, and would not have committed otherwise.”

    “If you leave a pine of gold visible in your open garage, and arrest everybody who walks in and takes some, that’s not entrapment.”

    You’re kind of contradicting yourself here – if “leav[ing] a pine of gold visible in your open garage”…”induces a person to commit a crime that they had no previous desire to commit, and would not have committed otherwise” – wouldn’t that satisfy your definition of entrapment?

    But this –

    “@celynnen: Well, you know how parties get. Someone made a big batch of egg nog, and before we knew it, Midas had his gloves off and was touching stuff.

    The important thing is, nobody was hurt.”

    – is funny.

  33. I once saw an actual pine of gold and for $50 I will send you…no wait, scratch that.
    In NYC IIRC the police would put out a wallet and bust those who picked it up but didn’t tell the first cop they saw….or drop it in a convenient mailbox…
    Deception practiced to get others to reveal themselves…this guy should be a spy. Perhaps Spy vs. Spy isn’t so far off the mark…

  34. Huronbob@30: How are the negative vibes of your schoolmarmish shaming any better than what Rob did?

  35. Buddy:

    Bert de Gylpyn drew of Normandie
    From Walchelin his gentle blood,
    Who haply hears, by Bewley’s sea,
    The Angevins’ bugles in the wood,
    His crest, the rebus of his name,
    Pineapple-a pine of gold
    Was it, his Norman shield,
    Sincere, in word and deed, his face extolled.
    But Richard having killed the boar
    With crested arm an olive shook,
    And sable boar on field of or
    For impress on his shield he took.
    And well he won his honest arms.
    And well he knew his Kentmore lands.
    He won them not in war’s alarms,
    Nor dipt in human blood his hands.


    Il Pino d’Oro

    But I have a feeling that neither of these are what BobDole meant.. :)

  36. RacerX

    Opportunity to commit a crime is not the same as motivation to commit it.

    Are jewellry stores that have open display cases guilty of entrapment? Is setting down your bag, as you turn to open a car-door entrapment?

    Entrapment is analogous to offering the motivation for the crime, not offering the opportunity for the crime.

    To determine whether entrapment has been established, a line must be drawn between the trap for the unwary innocent and the trap for the unwary criminal
    Sherman v. United_States

  37. Antinous, I’d say so:

    1398, “pine cone,” from pine (n.) + apple. The reference to the fruit of the tropical plant (from resemblance of shape) is first recorded 1664, and pine cone emerged 1695 to replace pineapple in its original sense. For “pine cone,” O.E. also used pinhnyte “pine nut.”

    The song I quoted is originally 1200~, but the version above is reworded, probably from 1600~

  38. #45 OM: “What Rob’s doing is detrimental to the field of study”

    Um… compared to the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison experiment, I’m not certain the field of study is suffering from some guy trolling craigslist.

  39. Indeed:

    Gilpin Coat of Arms
    Or, a boar statant sable, langued and tusked gules.

    Crest: A dexter arm embowed I armor proper, the naked hand grasping a pine branch fesswise vert.


    I can almost always count on you for an answer. You’re an encyclopedia of interest. Thanks, again.

  41. I just did a craiglist search in my area for anything similar (copycats) and I found one that seems very close to what Rob is doing.

    If you search the Chicago craiglist’s lost/found ads, you’ll find one about a “large sum of money” found near a target.

    I just e-mailed him to tell him/her that he needs to be a little more creative than that.

  42. People who get worked up on BB always seem to get pie.
    Antinous! Where’s my pie?

    [inset fabulous inuendo here]

  43. heronbob, anti has to read your drivel. it’s his j-o-b. i personally get a kick out of your trollishness. you are what the huron would have called a ‘contrary’. whatever the direction of the prevailing breeze, you gotta fart into the wind.

  44. Well that’s a coincidence, what with all the free ice cream around here.. pity about the flav.. uh, nothing.

  45. HURONBOB: While you’re crackin’ down on unethical behavior on Craigslist, why don’t you try to get people from scalping tickets there? That’s something they state definitively as unallowed in policy, and yet is rampant. Ever heard the phrase: Pick your battles?

    ARKIZZLE: I don’t think i’ve ever been this entertained by what surely began as a typo. A pine ‘o gold to you sir!

    ANTINOUS: Does this mean we can stop you if you’re passin by?

  46. Sadly, there is no cake. (Although I saw it, and it looked delicious and moist)
    So we must settle for pie. Like that’s settling!

  47. I enjoyed this and think that it’s being taken a slight bit too seriously by some–entrapment, enshrapment, whatever. That said…

    Cockerham noted on his blog that he finds money a lot and tries to find its rightful owner–although admitting that this is almost impossible. I’ve also found money (usually $10-$50) a bunch of times, and although I could certainly use it, I feel some karmic responsibility not to keep it. But since the chances of finding the original owner are slim to none, I make a donation to a charity–a food bank, the Red Cross, AmRef, etc.–in that amount. It seems as good a solution as any.

  48. Is that a puzzle? Where’s Takuan?

    Speaking of cake, BB used to have a cake post about once per week. If the universe were working properly, we should have already had a Montauk Monster cake. We should definitely see a dead-bigfoot-in-a-fridge cake by Friday. And maybe a cockroach-with-Franz-Kafka’s-head cake for good luck.

  49. ANON@81: “the basic unit of dishonesty is the lie”

    If that’s true, it’s a unit that comes in all sizes. Cheneys, then, would appear to be only the really big ones.

  50. This is art.

    I think of all of the old school the fun be had pranking and manipulating these manipulators.
    It reminds of these guys….

    I am a new fan of Rob Cockerham for sure….
    He reminds of an Author…. who should be signed to my favorite Indy Publisher “RE/Search”… (especially in VOL3 book Pranks) “http://www.researchpubs.com/books/prankprod.php”

    And come to think of it…. BoingBoing reminds me in some way of that “RE:Search flavor” of content for the digital age… BRAVO

  51. i completely disagree with huronbobs assessment of the experiment.

    and completely agree with most of the other posters such as the bob dole posters.

    yet i still think “put a sock in it.”

    is a very O’Reillyian thing to say. Especially for a mod.

  52. @ OM:

    “What Rob’s doing is detrimental to the field of study…”

    This is where I stop believing you’re a sociologist. If what Rob did is “detrimental,” then what about the would-be scammer? Frankly, your argument falls flat. Rob never touted his sociological expertise, unlike SOME people.

    Please explain to us, oh wizened social behaviorist, how your comments here have in any way been beneficial to the field of study. Prank, stunt, social experiment, whatever you want to call it… Rob’s online activities haven’t exactly set you back twenty years. Get real. Seriously.

    If he was claiming to be a sociologist, that’d be one thing, but a truck driver sketching a naked lady on the inside of a matchbook cover doesn’t hasten the demise of visual art. A child clinking away on a broken toy piano doesn’t make Franz Liszt irrelevant, nor does it have any measurable influence over the future of music. And your Marquis DeSade reference doesn’t make your point any less fatuous.

    I’d like to see a list of your accomplishments, with exhaustive annotation regarding the positive impact that your work has had upon “the field.” We’d need an expert opinion, after all.

  53. If you lose $800 in America, forget about getting it back. It’s gone. Whoever finds it is going to keep it. But if you lose $800 in Japan, nobody would even think of keeping the money. The person who finds it will spend a lot of time looking for the owner, and if they couldn’t find the owner, will turn the money in to the police. The owner will presumably check with the police as well.

    I heard this from a podcast by an American teaching living in Japan, talking about how his students had found a pile of cash. Can’t remember if it was Tokyo Calling, or Hello Flom Japan.

    Earlier this week, as I was walking to my car after work, I found a Honda car key on the road. I looked around, there were no Honda cars nearby. So I put it on top a tree stump about 1m away, in case the owner comes back looking for it. What should I have done if there was a Honda car nearby?

  54. I used to do stuff like this, but before the Internet. My friend and I once made about a thousand fliers printed with cryptic symbols, worded: If you know what this means, meat at the Lyons in Clovis, on Friday the 16th of March, at 9 p.m.

    We would then go to the meeting place and just watch people to see if anyone had the fliers or if there were people there looking around suspiciously (besides us).

    We never planned on making contact with anyone, and we never really cared to discover if anyone ever followed the fliers.

    We always hung out at Lyons (this was when you could smoke inside, and so we would often spend hours and hours just smoking and drinking coffee), and we thought it would be fun to do.

    I don’t know if this “experiment” was on us or them…

  55. What *should* you do if you actually found money, and you want to return it?

    Leaving a note with the store manager *is* a good idea. But I wouldn’t post on craigslist. What are the odds of the owner looking there? A better thing to do would be to write a note on piece of cardboard, and leave it where you found the money. Make up a random email address, and ask them to email you there – eg jq3Ztje21w@yahoo.com, then go home and create that new email address at yahoo. Check that mailbox for a month. Even if they don’t use email, they could get a friend or relative to send it for them.

    What about the problem of “subsequent” person “mysteriously” giving the information you just “leaked” to the previous person? A good tactic may be to provide false information. For example, “Sorry, the money I found was more than that. Besides, there were a pile of pennies in a little plastic bag”. Create some different fake info each time. When subsequent persons mentions the fake info, you could just ignore them. Or email back saying, “Sorry, Alisha, the pennies I mentioned to Jesa was a trick to catch dishonest people like you. There were no pennies.”

  56. Chris G(#22) FTW. I’m gonna laugh about that all day.

    @Phikus (#87), what’s the conversion from a lie to a cheney? 1 to 100 (100 lies = 1 cheney)? Now I’m desperate to think of what the superunit of a cheney could possibly be…

  57. Rather than use the “Gold in a Garage” example, why not use Bait Cars? An actual practice most people should be familiar with.

  58. @100: Bait cars aren’t nearly piney enough. Unless they’ve got those little air fresheners, which most of them don’t.

  59. I found in a pinecone made out of gold in the parking lot of Rancho Mirage. If you can describe the life and times of Bertrand Russell I will place an egg at the top of the Sears Tower. If you can correctly identify the breed of bird which gave hence to this egg, I will massage the tummy of a newborn kitten. If you can tell me the number of kittens in the litter from which that kitten was born, I shall produce, from an undisclosed orifice on my body, another egg, this one made entirely of chocolate. Identify the color of the candy coating, and the pinecone is yours!

  60. Anonymous@47: That comic is brilliant, and so apt here! Thank you! I think it illustrates the point rather nicely (Feynman, yaaay).

    Mark: Thanks for posting this!

    Rob: I personally find your experiments — yes, experiments — fascinating. Also, that you encountered only (ostensibly) two people out of all the people in all those cities (and perhaps beyond) who read your post and tried to deceive you is great news!

    *more after this Kumbaya break*

    Huronbob: If you’re even still reading this post, please know that I don’t mean to offend you and that it pains me to see negative comment after negative comment exchanged between yourself and various people on boingboing of all places!

    It’s clear you have much to contribute, and much that other people will disagree with, but I ask you to consider what harm there would be in assuming the best in people here. That is to say, perhaps people are … in ways you find varying degrees of palatable … wishing you to be more positive or perhaps just less aggressive in your criticism. We all have different boundaries here, but I find the best way not to cross anyone’s is to have faith that they don’t mean to cross ours.

    Happy Friday (if applicable) and Happy Commenting to ev’rybody, and thanks for wading through my clauses.

  61. Did you notice the characteristic use of lowercase after a period in all but one of the emails! And also see misspelled losing (loosing) in Catherine’s and Eric’s emails.

    I’m sure Rob was at least tempted to have more fun with this!

  62. Antinous, and others saying there was no “false hope” should check the messages from Bella (no timestamp provided). I suppose she could have been part of the scam threads, but there was no reason for her to send a response saying someone else had found her money.

  63. BWCBWC@108: “Bella” was definitely part of the scam. Rob provides her with “wrapped in paper” and “almost $800″, both of which are immediately echoed back by “Eric”.

    (Sorry for posting to an old story, but I just stumbled across this.)

  64. “Bella: thank you for emailing me back. someone just called me who found my money! so thankfully I got it back.”

    LOL. Like someone ELSE in the world would be such a good samaritan (like the experimenter) to post and THEN give the money back. She thought she’d found some poor kind-hearted sap to scam to begin with, what makes her think you would believe there would be TWO?

    Good going Bella, err Eric, err Catherine, err Scammer. Nice save. LOLLOL.

  65. This is just another juvenile scam. It is a lie, with the intent of getting other people to lie.

  66. HuronBob,

    Rob created a completely fictional situation. Rob’s post could not have elicited any responses from honest people. Rob was unsuccessfully worked by a would-be con artist. I don’t think that you’re very good at making ethical distinctions.

  67. HuronBob,

    The majority of your comments are cranky, complaining, carping negativity, and a variety of commenters have suggested that you put a sock in it. If the content of BoingBoing doesn’t please you, why are you here?

  68. HuronBob,

    I read your comments because I’m a moderator and that’s what I do. If you can’t be more pleasant on occasion, please step away from the keyboard and go have some pie.

Comments are closed.