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Craigslist Crimes

Is it worth the risk?

Craigslist, the place where you can sell anything, even yourself. It's the place where you can buy anything, including sex. It's also the root of a lot of evil. The crime that ensues for many people begins with a simple post, whether you are buying or selling. Most have heard of Philip Markoff, the Craigslist killer, but he is really A Craigslist killer. There have been  129 of them, with 2017 being the last year for which information is available. That does not reflect the huge numbers of other crimes that have been recorded, but not tallied. Craigslist's answer to the criminality users are subjected to is a cavalier, “With billions of human interactions, the incidence of violent crime related to Craigslist is extremely low.” What they don't do but could do is hire more people to work in the safety division or in ad inspection.  There are only 40 people running this show. Backpage was recently shut down for prostitution ads, and for the human trafficking of children for sex. Craigslist needs to take a stand on "Safe Trade" spots. There are many of them, and you can find them at Safe Spots. These safe trade spots are usually set up at police stations, to assure buyers and sellers can exchange money for goods in safety.

One intrepid reporter by the name of Aaron Sankin decided to arbitrarily select one month and record all of the Craigslist crimes that occurred. He chose April 2014. While not a scientific experiment, the results were eye-opening. During that month were 74 crimes related to Craigslist, three of which were murders. His study found the crimes in 27 states and the District of Columbia. Shown below is a map created by Max Fleishman.

Craigslist Crime Map

The most common crimes were assaults, robbery, and attempted robbery. Not surprising when you take into consideration that valuable merchandise or money are involved. Other common crimes included people having their merchandise stolen, and then finding it relisted on Craigslist for sale. Other folks were paid for their wares with counterfeit money or a fraudulent check. One very specific and common form of thievery involved real estate. A posting for a great apartment or house would draw in the gullible. They would view the rental pictures and send a deposit. The rental property didn't exist, and their deposit money was stolen. 

Other crimes that have been committed by Craigslist criminals include some rather horrifying episodes. Korena Roberts met Heather Snively through a Craigslist post offering baby clothes. They became friends over their mutual pregnancies. Just one problem, Roberts wasn't pregnant. She beat Snively to death, using a police baton, and promptly cut Snively open to get her unborn child. Both mother and child died, and Roberts was sentenced to life. Katherine Olsen responded to an ad for child care and was shot and killed by a 19-year-old man. Len Dykstra, a former professional baseball player, had already been convicted of grand theft auto when he placed ads on Craigslist for a housekeeper. He sexually assaulted the women who answered his posts, including one he held at knifepoint. A minister, hired from Craigslist to perform a wedding ceremony, ran off with the wedding gifts. Electronics and cars are big sellers on Craigslist, and there have been huge numbers of people robbed. Sex crimes related to prostitution are off the charts. What can we do as consumers or sellers? There are precautions one can take, but there are still risks.

  • Deal with local people you can meet in person, preferably at a Safe Trade spot.
  • Never wire money through Western Union or any other wire service. Scammers prefer this method of getting your money.
  • Cashier's checks and money orders are easily faked and when the bank refuses them you are SOL. Demand cash but beware, - counterfeiters love big cash transactions. Short of going with the buyer to the bank, your position is precarious.
  • Never give out any financial information. Even Paypal has been hit. Do not let a seller submit you to a background check or credit check until you have met the seller in person and have seen a driver's license and recorded the information on it.
  • Do not buy or rent anything without seeing it first.
  • If there is not a Safe Trade spot near you, meet in a very public place in daylight only.
  • Do not allow buyers or sellers into your home.
  • Double your precautions on big-ticket items, especially small items like jewelry that can be easily snatched.
  • Let people at home or friends know where you are going, and NEVER GO ALONE! Males are at risk, too. 
  • Trust your instincts. If things look hinky get out immediately. If a deal is too good to pass up, it's probably a scam. 
You have to ask yourself if this purchase or sale is worth all of this. You could avoid many problems if you go old school. Local newspapers still exist whether online or on paper. Companies still have bulletin boards, electronic or physical, where you can post an item for sale or a desire to buy. Word of mouth can drum up buyers and sellers. No sale or purchase is worth your life or bodily harm.