Man Posts Fake Ads on Craigslist to See What People Are Willing to Do

Russell Henry posted 150 fake ads and turns out people may do anything.

ByEmily Friedman
April 21, 2010, 4:01 PM

April 22, 2010 — -- Ever wonder what it would take to convince a complete stranger to bring you food in the middle of the night or act as your human punching bag after a bad day?

As it turns out, all it takes is an attention-grabbing personal ad, according to a Los Angeles lawyer and self-proclaimed prankster who goes by the alias Henry Russell.

Russell spent a year posting fake advertisements on the online community website Craigslist in an experiment to see what people were willing to do, and he has turned 29 of his best findings into a new self-published book, "Craigslist Casual Encounters: The Hilarious and Disturbing World of Seeking Sex Online."

"Part of me just did it for the entertainment," Russell, 37, told "But the point was to find out what kind of people are on Craigslist; I was trying to find the crazy people who might make the news and just to interact with them and see what they're all about."

The year-long project produced an estimated 150 unique ads that he published in all 50 states. His ads, always posted in the casual encounters section of the site, which is known for being the destination for users looking for casual sexual relationships, garnered more than 10,000 responses, he said.

Russell requested anonymity for this story out of fear that some people may attempt to retaliate against him, physically or otherwise.

"I know it would be karma for people to prank me," he said. "But I'd rather avoid if at all possible."

One of the earliest postings -– and one Russell said is on his list of favorites -– was written from the perspective of a woman who had just been dumped and was looking for a guy who was willing to take the brunt of her anger.

"I just want to let out some of this aggression," read the post, later soliciting for a man who would let her punch him.

"I was astounded by the number of responses I got of guys willing to let her punch him out," said Russell, who estimated that the ad got nearly 300 responses.

Henry Russell Posted 150 Fake Craigslist Ads

And while Russell did post some sexual ads, such as a request to have sex while dressed up in bear costumes, he said, the ads that were not intended to illicit sex generated the most interesting responses. Many responses respected the "no sex" requests, while others tried to turn anything they could into a sexual innuendo.

For example, in an ad titled, "It's Late and I'm Hungry," Russell, who has a girlfriend, posed as a woman requesting Taco Bell.

"I know the odds someone will actually help me out are slim, but I'm home from the bars, without a car and dying for some Taco Bell," read the ad, "This isn't for sex, and there is a 0% chance of that happening, but maybe someone out there is feeling like a good Samaritan."

The 109 responses Russell received varied, some impressed with the advertiser's audacity, writing, "Pretty odd but bold request."

Others couldn't help but try to barter for sex.

"So, no sex at all?" wrote one poster, and another wrote that he'd come and deliver the food, but only in exchange for oral sex.

Russell said he used an alias to protect himself, and never let a back-and-forth exchange progress to the point where he says he "really thought" the person would do what he was asking.

One ad attracted particularly disturbing responses, said Russell, who posted as a man looking for L.A. Lakers basketball tickets in exchange for a night with his wife.

"One of the difficult parts of running the ads was that some people would just respond with a [naked] picture of themselves," Russell said. "It gets a little old.

"There are definitely some psychos out there," Russell said of some Craigslist users he encountered.

Russell said one man with whom he exchanged e-mails and who claimed to be in Chicago went into detail about his incestuous relationship with his sister.

Russell said that when the conversation got out of hand and the man allegedly said he wanted to have a daughter for his son to "experiment sexually with," he forwarded the information to the Chicago police.

Craigslist did not respond to a request for a comment.

Responders Willing to Trade Tickets for Sex With Poster's Wife

Responders to the Lakers ticket ad seemed more than willing to give up their seats at the game for a night with the poster's wife, writing posts such as, "I'll definitely swap my tickets for your wife. I hope you are for real. I am."

Another responder said he was especially interested because his girlfriend was away, and wrote, "My girlfriend is out of town and I am lonely so such a barter would possibly be of interest to me."

Russell admitted that his experiment was less than honest, writing in the introduction to his book, "I'm probably going to hell for writing this book and having fun at the expense of so many people."

But Montana Miller, an assistant professor in the department of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said Russell's project may help other Craigslist users.

"As a microcosm of our culture at large, Craigslist is a wonderful window into our culture," Miller said.

Miller added in a subsequent interview that the "casual encounters" section of the site, where Russell posted the ads, represents an "extreme segment of society."

"If Craigslist is a window into culture, 'casual encounters' is a window into the anonymous motel rooms of our culture where people may escape into sometimes illicit sexual interludes."

"Yes, I think that what people will get out of this book is mainly entertainment," she said. "But it may have the useful effect of teaching people not to take everything at face value.

"When people are unfamiliar with Craigslist they tend to be too trusting at first," she said. "They may not understand the signals that you have to read in order to determine whether something is serious or just a prank."

Russell, who was not shy in admitting that he hopes to get a book deal or a screenplay out of his experiment, said he hopes his work is helpful to the online community.

"I do think the site is filled with a lot of relatively normal people who want casual sex, but there is an element on there that is scary and dangerous," he said.

"So if you're going to use the site, you have to be careful."

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