Craigslist is the website where Internet users can buy and sell anything. In just a few clicks of the mouse, one can browse advertisements for housing, items for sale, jobs, information forums, help for services, gigs, community events, and even people. Craigslist can be a highly useful tool, but it also has a dark side. I pulled together accounts from reputable publications to inform GKIS readers about Craigslist benefits and its risks. Then I offered some quick tips for staying safe when using Craigslist.
From Hobby to Fortune
In 1995, Craig Newmark started an email program as a hobby. This program allowed him to easily communicate social events to other San Francisco Internet developers. Word of the program grew quickly, and users began posting emails for other purposes like job searching. Due to popular demand, Craig quickly expanded the features of the program, and in only a year, the website, Craigslist, was created.
The website continued to rapidly expand, and in 1999 Craig’s hobby became a full-time job. In 2010, Craig’s net worth was estimated at a staggering 400 million dollars! His website is now available in over seventy countries and is visited over 20 billion times a month (Terynn, 2013).
So Easy, Your Child Can Do It
Craigslist is famously known as “the public online marketplace.” The website’s user-friendly system and free cost to advertise, draws in 55 million users every month, in the US alone (Usman, 2014). It’s now commonly used by the average American and is a staple for amateur buying and selling.
To access Craigslist, you do not need a user name, personal information, or a credit card. You are free to browse all the content on the website anonymously. If you see an advertisement you like, simply click on the ad, and you will be taken to a page with more detail of the item and a link to the owner.
Creating an ad on craigslist is also easy. Select a category you wish to make an ad for (items for sale, personals, jobs etc.). Then add a title for your ad, a description of what you are selling, and any personal information for those to reach you (email, phone number, social media, or a home address). Once you have posted the advertisement it is viewable to everybody on the site.
My Experience with Craigslist
I love using Craigslist. I have bought and sold many items using the site, and each transaction has gone smoothly. I have had many welcoming encounters, and I have even become friends with a few people I have met. The website is intuitive and easy to manage, and the free advertisement it provides is amazing. However, like with so many Internet sites, people have found ways to use Craigslist for unanticipated, illegal purposes.
The Dark Side: Scammers, Stalkers, and Setups
Scammers use Craigslist to steal money from unsuspecting victims by placing fraudulent advertisements with incredible deals. Buyers are asked to send money orders or checks online, and after making payment, never receive their item. Scammers also take advantage of those selling items. They do this by sending bad money orders or checks that bounce (Paul, 2013).
In Ohio a man tried to use Craigslist to sell his car. He was thrilled when a man responded to his advertisement wanting to purchase his vehicle. The man claimed to be from South Carolina but was unable to come and pick up the car in person. He asked if the car could be shipped to him, and he would send a check to cover the cost of shipping and the vehicle. The Ohio man agreed, and his customer sent $5,450. After receiving the money, he paid for the car to be shipped and told the man from South Carolina it was on its way. The next day he checked his bank account, and the funds he had received were no longer good. He tried to contact the man but was unable to and lost $2500 dollars due to the shipping charges (John, 2016).
Stalkers are also using Craigslist to set-up and harass victims. They do this by posting advertisements that may include the victim’s phone number, address, and even photos. The stalker can even pose as the victim through email and send messages to those who respond to the ad. Victims are then targeted by the harassment of unknown strangers.
A woman from Maryland, was horrified when she founds ads posted on craigslist that read, “Rape me and my daughters.” The ad included her address and photos of her and her daughters. She contacted police, and police found that her ex-husband was responsible for the ads (Justin, 2013).
A bizarre Craigslist story involved a soon-to-be-married couple and an ex-girlfriend (Kelley, 2017). The soon-to-be wife claimed that the ex-girlfriend created a Craigslist advertisement posing as her. In the ad people were asked to come to her house and forcibly rape her. The soon-to-be wife also called the police, claiming that a man had forcibly entered her garage and attempted to rape her. When police arrived, the woman had red marks around her neck and a ripped shirt. Police never found a suspect. However, investigators examined the Internet history of both women. They discovered that the soon-to-be wife had created the advertisement to frame the ex-girlfriend!
Robbery and Sexual Assault
Robberies and assaults are unfortunately quite common on Craigslist. Criminals know that victims are bringing valuable items to meetings and use this knowledge to plan locations where they can easily rob their targets. They also take advantage of trusting and unaccompanied victims.
In Seattle, a woman used the services section of Craigslist. She posted an advertisement asking for someone to fix her broken microwave. A man responded to her ad. When he arrived at her house, she was home alone. He sexually assaulted her and fled the premises (Levi, 2008).
Another story comes from a man who used the personals section of Craigslist. This is a highly controversial section of Craigslist due to its use for soliciting sexual acts. It is illegal to post advertisements soliciting sex on the website, and many are taken down. However, the use of code words has allowed many ads to go undetected (Ed, 2017). In this story the man arrived at an address he had received from the female he had been talking to online. He entered the house and was assaulted and robbed by two men (Levi, 2008).
Child Trafficking and Slavery
Criminals are using Craigslist to make victims sex slaves. One way they do this is by placing advertisements in the “rooms for rent” category. The ads have incredible deals which lure in unsuspecting victims. A woman from Wisconsin responded to an ad that offered free rent for cooking and cleaning. The apartment was in Brooklyn, and when the woman arrived, the man picked her up at the airport. Once at the apartment, the man handcuffed the woman to his radiator and forced her to be his sex slave. After eight days of enslavement she was released. Authorities were contacted and the man was arrested (Irin, 2011).
Children has also been victimized using Craigslist. A father from Texas was arrested and convicted for committing child prostitution and child trafficking. This creep placed ads on Craigslist offering to “come play with daddy’s little girl”. He also tried selling his daughter for one-thousand-dollars (Jeff, 2015).
How to be Craigslist Safe
- If the buyer or seller won’t give you their name or phone number or the offer is too good to be true. Abort mission.
- Deal with only local people and vet their authenticity by asking for their name and social media handles. Google them to investigate their digital footprint.Talk to the seller on the phone. Ask questions about the item to get a feel for the situation. How long have you had it? Are you the original buyer? Why are you selling it? If their information about the item is sketchy, so are they.
- Never give personal information about yourself beyond your name and phone number. If they say they need information for a credit check, make sure the situation is legitimate before you agree to anything.
- Only meet during daylight and have a buddy with you whether you’re buying or selling. A public meeting place is best.
- Make sure your photos don’t contain meta data, like geotagged location of the photo (where predators can track your advertised merchandise to your home).
- Cash only. Do not wire money or accept a check, cashier’s check, or money order. It is a common scam to ask you to cash a check that’s made out for more money than you are asking for.
- Trust your gut. If the situation doesn’t feel right, end the transaction.
Thank you to CSUCI Intern, Dylan Smithson for informing parents of the potential dangers on Craigslist. The next time you visit the website, use the Craigslist safe tips. Don’t become a craigslist horror story. If you enjoyed reading this article, feel free to share with friends and family, and give us a like on our GetKidsInternetSafe Facebook page.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
Ed S. (2017) Craigslist Code Words: Do you Know What They Really Mean?
Irin C. (2011) The Disturbing Story of the Craigslist “Sex Slave”
Jeff E. (2015) Shocking Details of Alleged Child Prostitution Case Make Court Onlookers Gasp
John M. (2016) Hamilton man loses $2,500 to Craigslist Scam
Justin J. (2013) Stalkers use online ads as weapons against victims
Kelley P. (2017) Wife thought to be victim in “rape fantasy” Craigslist case now charged with framing husbands ex-girlfriend
Levi P. (2008) Free and Friendly Craigslist has its dark side
Paul M. (2013) 8 Vile Craigslist Scams to Watch Out For
Usman A. (2014) Top 10 Countries using Craigslist 2014
Terynn B. (2013) Who is Craig From Craigslist
Shady Characters Jason Rogers, CC BY 2.0
The dark sides Georgie Pauwels, CC BY 2.0
Come to the Dark Side Holley and Chris Melton, CC BY 2.0
Craig’s List Clone for Do It With Drupal Jeff Robbins, CC BY 2.0
Reese, Hacker. Donnie Ray Jones, CC BY 2.0