Access deleted, expired, archived Craigslist ads

So if you were looking for archives of old deleted, expired, flagged or archived Craigslist ads, and you are working for law enforcement, SIU, government agencies, or private investigators, or licensed attorney, you can use Harmari Search for Craigslist to access expired, deleted, flagged or archived ads.

Craigslist hides Contact information within ad

Recent changes to the Craigslist site have a major impact on how effective investigators can search for fraudulent and suspicious activity on the site. 

CLPS search on number

Firstly, any phone numbers that are displayed in the content of the ad are hidden from view. The reader has to click “show contact info” for the phone number to appear. The good news is that these phone numbers can be reverse looked up through a Craigslist keyword search. The bad news is they will not be searchable via Google, SearchTempest – not even in Craigslist itself! The only tool that can obtain it is Harmari Search – and it’s for investigators only. Here’s a sample ad with the hidden phone number under the bubble.

Contact info hidden

Here’s the same ad with the bubble removed:

Show Contact Info bug

The second change involves the Reply/Contact button.  If the button at the top of the ad says “Reply” there is only an email address displayed.  But if the button says Contact, then there is a phone number, or email, or a first name displayed. 
Craigslist contact button

The phone number behind the Contact button is not searchable within Craigslist:

Craigslist phone number Contact no results

Here are some statistics we recently compiled about the percentage of ads and if/where the ads contain the phone number, based on about 750,000 ads:

Location Number of Ads
Within Contact Button and Ad Body 162938
Within Contact Button and not in Ad Body 247160
Within Ad Body and not in Contact Button 98013

So what this means is when you keyword search for phone numbers on Craigslist, you are missing at least 37% of the ads. You might miss even more ads if you do not search all the common types of phone number formats being used, and doesn’t include spelled-out phone numbers.

Harmari Search is the only comprehensive search tool that can capture all phone numbers everywhere. This includes all formats, including spelled-out format.

Investigative alternative to a subpoena of craigslist

If you are an investigator and require information on old, deleted or expired Craigslist ads, do not look any further than Harmari Search, which contains a large repository of live and historic Craigslist ads.  Note that access to this search is only available to law enforcement, government regulators of industry, professional licensing boards, insurance fraud investigators, and licensed private investigators.  It is not available to the public at large.  Harmari Search for Craigslist currently supports all “For Sale” categories of craigslist ads in the USA and Canada.  Not only does it let you search by keywords, it supports multi-state/city, phone number, VIN or Make/Model/Year searches as well, which is not supported by a traditional Craigslist search.

However, it will only be able to search publicly available content of the ad.  For the “hidden” email account used to post the ad, the IP address, unfortunately a subpoena or a search warrant to Craigslist is the only other course of action available to investigators.  Visit their legal section on the craigslist website for more information.

Using Internet Archive / Wayback Machine for investigations

Investigators have a common question: what if I could go back in time to see what a website looked like a year ago?  Or even 3 years ago?  What about a week ago?  The Internet Archive provides just such a capability.  Inspired by the fictional WABAC machine from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which Professor Peabody used to go back to past eras in time, the “Wayback Machine” by the Internet Archive also goes back in time on the Internet.  Although it can be used in that capacity, it is critical to be aware of its limitations as well.   In fact there are active legal discussion on its admissibility as evidence in court.  See Onward Multi-Corp. Inc. v. Empire Comfort Systems, Inc., 2010 TMOB 29 (CanLII) http://canlii.ca/t/291b4 or this discussion for US-based case law or this paper.

Archive Overview

Over 240 billion webpages are archived from 1996 up to today.   Popular websites are archived more frequently than others, and the website needs to be at least 6 months old for the Wayback Machine to pick it up.  It updates the version on record a minimum of once every 6 months.  Below is a survey of its use in popular websites / social media / e-commerce for investigations:

Facebook

The most popular social networking site out there shuts the door on Internet Archive and many other search crawlers due to its robots.txt file.  Google provides a limited view of the users in Facebook, but can’t penetrate into the network due to similar restrictions Facebook imposes on its Web Crawler.

facebook

Twitter

No further details available than the screenshot below: Twitter is not supported on Internet Archive.

twitter

YouTube

Internet Archive does a little better with YouTube.  You can type in a specific video and track if the video has changed, or if there were some “comments” made in the past that were deleted or no longer there today.

twinkle archive 2012-01-01

Above is the archived page for a popular YouTube video from Jan. 1, 2012.  Surprisingly, the video works, and is streamed through JWPlayer, some sort of simulation of the original YouTube video player.  You can move forwards or backwards in time by selecting the controls along the top of the page.  If you want to fine-tune you can use the left or right arrows to move to the next archived version.  Sometimes Wayback Machine can have a few different versions of the page in the same day.

twinkle archive 2012-11-27

Here is the same video archived on Nov. 27, 2012, you can see that the number of hits has gone up and more comments are there to browse through.

Homestars

Below is another limitation of the Internet Archive: search capability is restricted.  If you try searching on the archived website, you’ll be directed to the results on the live website instead.  That is because Internet Archive cannot possibly archive all possible search results you can enter.

homestars search archive

Craigslist

The Internet Archive has some limited visibility into old Craigslist ads as shown in the screenshot below.  It only shows a listing of ads rather than the ads themselves

craigslist new york 2012-01-25

As you can see below, when you click on an individual ad then the error message is displayed.

craigslist new york individual ad

So if you were looking for archived Craigslist ads, and you are working for law enforcement, SIU, fraud detection, or private investigators, you can use Harmari Search for Craigslist to access expired, deleted, flagged or archived ads.

Craigslist Power Search upgrades

Announcing the latest Craigslist Power Search with the following changes:

  • upgraded server for improved response time and uptime
  • added special category “Farm / Heavy Equipment” specially suited for auto theft investigators and SIUs
  • added Make/Model/Year search specially suited for auto theft investigators and SIUs
  • added account creation and account management for each user
  • improved user interface and layout of features
  • spamBuster technology to avoid spammy keywords in Craigslist search results

 

Find Old Craigslist ads or eBay auction pages within browser

Have you ever clicked the link to a Craigslist ad of something you were previously looking at, only to find it was deleted, flagged, or an error message? Well, by taking advantage of “offline mode”, you can see its original contents, pictures and all!

Update: Law enforcement, SIU, government, private investigators, and industry regulators can use Harmari Search for Craigslist to find old, deleted or expired Craigslist ads.

So here’s where you start: go to the link that is giving the error:

sample Craigslist live ad with the error message displayedIt’s not the end of the world; you can still retrieve the old ad by clicking Work Offline in your Internet Explorer browser.

So now you should see the title bar with “Offline Mode”.  Now click the Refresh button to refresh the page.

Now you should see the original ad if all is in place

Why this works:

When you visit a website for the first time, the browser stores all the pictures, the webpage code and everything related to rendering the page in its cache.  By going into Offline Mode, you are effectively cutting off your Internet connection and loading the website from your computer’s memory, stored in the cache.

Browsing the cache from your address bar

If you don’t have the link to the Craigslist ad, then there’s still a chance to look through the cache on your Internet Explorer browser to retrieve the ad.  Just go into the address bar, erase everything else, and type in “craig”.  Do not press Enter, and do not click anything. Just type those letters in.  You’ll get a set of “close matches” based on Internet Explorer guessing what you’re trying to type.

If you don’t recognize the title of the ad in the results shown, you can expand the number of matches by clicking on the arrow indicated below:

If you still do not recognize it, try to add a few special letters that correspond to the category in which you were shopping.  For example, “Autos for sale – by owner” is represented by “cto”.  See below for how the results change with those letters added in.

 

Old EBay Auction Pages

The same techniques above can also apply for other websites like eBay:

You can also search by keywords within the address bar, as long as you don’t press enter and don’t click on anything!

Forensic Search of Temporary Internet Files

If these efforts did not prove helpful, then you can try browsing the cache directly by following these 3 steps, indicated below:

You should now get a new window to appear, similar to the one below.  Now keyword search for files that contain “.htm” and you will narrow down the results to the websites themselves.

Clicking on any of those html files should display the old Craigslist page as it used to appear.  All this is valid only when you are in Offline Mode.  If you try going to another website, then your browser will ask you whether you want to go Online or stay offline.

Only go online if your investigation is completed.  If you browse these files while in Online mode, you risk compromising your own investigation.  The new website might overwrite the old files in cache, and valuable evidence may be deleted.  Consult with a Computer Forensics expert if you are unsure what you are doing.

Professional Computer Forensics Tools

If you still can’t find the old ads, or auction page, then perhaps it was deleted.  The browser’s cache can easily be deleted to cleanup space or cover the tracks.  In these instances, it is better to use a professional computer forensics tool such as BelkaSoft or Jadsoft.

Other browsers / operating systems

The screenshots in this post were generated with the Internet Explorer 8 browser and Windows 7 operating system.  The steps will likely be different in other browsers and operating systems, but inevitably every browser worth its salt has an Offline Mode.