When they first surfaced, free online classified websites such as Craigslist were a boon to people everywhere looking to sell items to others in their community. They could save the cost of a newspaper classified ad, adding to their profits from total strangers willing to purchase their used goods.
But these transactions aren't without risk. Police departments nationwide are reporting an increase in a relatively new Internet crime: "robbery by appointment." The concept is relatively simple. A person who wants to sell a used item -- say, a bike or a laptop -- puts an ad on Craigslist or a similar website, and a potential buyer responds. They arrange a time and place to meet, and when the seller arrives, the buyer robs the seller of the item, often with violence.
Such a robbery happened last weekend in Milwaukee. A 33-year-old man arranged to meet someone interested in buying his cellphone at a gas station. The "buyer" got into the seller's car, forced him to drive to the back parking lot and threatened him with a revolver. After taking $40 from the man's pockets, the robber and another person stole two cellphones from the man. Two more similar robberies were reported in the city earlier this month.
The crimes have become so common, both in Wisconsin and across the country, that Milwaukee police are recommending that Craigslist users arrange their transactions inside the police station. Doing so would eliminate the chances of being held up or beaten up during a sale. It would also prevent any false accusations of robbery or other wrongdoing. If you come across a seller or buyer who doesn't want to meet in a safe place, that may be an indicator that you shouldn't trust him or her, and move on to the next interested party.
Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Craigslist-related robberies on the rise," Gitte Laasby, Jan. 23, 2012