WASHINGTON, October 28, 2013 — Craigslist is one of the most well known advertising forums in the world. Visitors to the website can post jobs or resumes, find housing, find love interests, sell toasters, cars and coin collections, advertise accounting and other services, post community events, and discuss the events of the day.
In 1995, Craig Newmark created an email distribution list of friends and featured local events in and around San Francisco. By 1996 his creation became a web-based service and he expanded it to include advertising, much like classified ads in newspapers. By 2000 he was seemingly everywhere with the city events, and now the website is so expansive it covers over fifty countries.
Mr. Newmark certainly never imagined that criminal and other highly suspect inappropriate behaviors would flourish on his creation or that it would occupy the time of legislators.
Despite well-identified rules of use, and despite equally well-identified warnings to users that they must comply with applicable laws and restrictions of use, Craigslist has become a go-to destination for illegal activity.
Courtney Coren, a freelance writer, in a recent article about illegal food stamps sales, published the following on newsmax.com:
“If you need food,” a Craigslist ad from Philadelphia reads, “this is not a gimmick or game. Please let me know, I have food stamps for sale. Serious replies only!!!”
A post from Atlanta offered $500 in food stamps for $350.
Ms. Coren notes that Fox News collected advertisements from around the country from people hoping to cash in on their federally funded, state-issued electronic-benefits-transfer cards, even though selling them is illegal.
Fox News, she says, found that there appear to be plenty of buyers.
Lawmakers in California and Nevada are looking to make prescription drug sales on Craigslist illegal. Ted Lieu of California and Tick Sergerblom of Nevada contacted the CEO of Craigslist in an effort to get him to ban the ads. Senator Lieu describes a “thriving” prescription drug marketplace in the Health and Beauty section, and notes that ads for hard drugs are also being placed there. He says that people were “straight-up” peddling hard drugs on the site.
This past week an Arizona man was arrested for trying to sell someone else’s home on Craigslist. He lived there as a tenant.
Two other non-owners, in Pennsylvania, tried to sell their neighbor’s dogs. Police investigated and found that one of the dogs was returned to its owner. The couples’ son told police “mommy gave the dog to a woman from the Internet.”
Last year, three Arizona people ran an ad in the personals category. A woman, her husband and their friend were arrested because the ad they posted sought illegal activity: bestiality. The woman wanted to have sex with a dog. Her husband and the friend were going to watch.
A “gaming-widow” newlywed in Utah, too often alone because of her husband’s addiction to a computer game, got together with his mother, and they placed an ad to sell him or for “an acceptable replacement.” The ad listed the husband as “easy to maintain” and only in need of “food and water every 3-5 hours.”
ABC News reported this story and noted that most people got the joke, and that several people made offers to train the husband.
A young man sent an inquiry to a legal “question and answer” website and asked if, as a joke, he could advertise his friend’s car for sale on Craigslist. He thought his friend getting multiple calls would be funny. The response pointed out that telephone harassment is illegal and fines and imprisonment of up to two years could follow a conviction.
Good thing he asked first.
A New Mexico woman placed an ad in 2011 looking to buy “weed.” Police responded to the ad as interested sellers and arrested her when she showed up to make the purchase.
Scam artists abound on Craigslist. In response, the site has a section describing common scams and what to do if a user is suspicious.
A common scam involves a buyer overpaying for an item. When the seller contacts the buyer to inform him of the overpayment, the buyer agrees to pay back the difference. What the seller doesn’t know is that the original check was a fake, so he cashes it and refunds the difference to the buyer. When the seller’s bank researches the check and finds it’s a fake, the seller is held responsible. The scam artist was obviously long gone with the buyer’s money.
Other scams involve fake money orders or checks, identity theft schemes designed to get a user’s personal information, and “bait-and-switch” plots, in which the user believes he is getting one thing, and ends up with another.
According to Craigslist, scams take on one or more of the following:
- Inquiry from someone far away, often in another country;
- A requirement to pay by Western Union, MoneyGram, cashier’s check, or money order; and
- An inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before consummating the transaction.
Here is a partial list of items and services that cannot be sold on Craigslist.
- Weapons, firearms, ammunition, silencers, BB guns, tear gas, stun guns
- Child pornography, obscene materials, offers or solicitation of prostitution
- Food stamps and other items received from governmental agencies or programs
- Alcohol or tobacco products. Controlled substances or illegal drugs and items used to manufacture controlled substances
- Prescription drugs and medical devices
- Blood, bodily fluids or body parts
- Pesticides or hazardous substances
- Stolen property, or property with serial number removed or altered.
- False identification cards, items with police insignia, citizenship documents, or birth certificates
- Counterfeit currency, coins and stamps, as well as equipment designed to make them
- Used bedding and clothing, unless sanitized in accordance with law.
- Non-packaged food items or adulterated food
- Bulk email or mailing lists that contain names, addresses, phone numbers, or other personal identifying information
Police in most jurisdictions are typically too busy to pursue Craigslist criminals.
Therefore, as always, the adage “buyer beware” applies.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.
His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.
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