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Police station now Craigslist HQ?

Worried about criminals lurking behind Web-based classified ads? In Milwaukee, buyers and sellers can conduct transactions at a police station.

By Giselle Smith Jan 24, 2012 7:36PM

For most of us, Craigslist is a great resource for buying or selling cars, iPhones, furniture and other items. But for those with fewer scruples, it's also an easy way to scope out potential victims.


From the Boston medical student labeled the "Craigslist Killer" in 2009 to the more recent murder of three job seekers in Ohio, Craigslist crime is on the rise nationwide.

After six Craigslist-related robberies in Milwaukee's District 7 in the past month, the police department came up with a potential solution for local residents buying and selling goods via Web-based classifieds: Conduct your business at the police station. Post continues below.

The ads that led to the crimes were for items including iPads and vehicles, and the victims were both would-be buyers and sellers, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

By offering a safe place for buyers and sellers to meet, police hope to halt the robberies. "If they don't want to meet you at a police district, that should be a red flag, an indicator: Don't do business with that individual," said police officer Lisa Staffold.

"This is nothing new. It's happening all over the country," she told the Journal Sentinel. "The media has deemed it 'robbery by appointment' because you're posting ads, you're selling your iPhones, your iPads, your vehicles, and when you go to a meeting location, you're being robbed."

Use Craigslist with caution

When my girlfriend sold her Jeep on Craigslist last year, she took precautions to avoid a bad experience. She conversed with potential buyers only via email (using paid reverse phone directories, enterprising thieves can obtain your name and address from just your cellphone number). And she met with them at a busy local Starbucks.

But based on many of the news stories about sales gone wrong, she may have simply been lucky that everything went smoothly.


The most recent of the Milwaukee robberies occurred Sunday at 6:25 p.m. at a gas station, where a man selling a cellphone reportedly arranged to meet a prospective buyer.

According to the Journal Sentinel, the "buyer" -- now the suspect -- forced the man to drive to the back of the parking lot, threatened him with a gun and -- after a fight -- stole $40 in cash and two cellphones.

Crime-prevention tips

If your local law enforcement officials don't let buyers and sellers conduct transactions at headquarters, here are some steps you can take for safe online buying and selling experiences, according to the Milwaukee police:

  • For items that can be shipped, use an online service such as eBay instead of Craigslist. Buying and selling on eBay involves no personal contact, and payments can be processed through a third-party business such as PayPal.
  • If the price for an item sounds too good to be true, it may be stolen -- or a setup.
  • When arranging to meet a buyer or seller, do so during daylight hours and choose a safe, busy, well-lit location.
  • Bring a friend and your cellphone to the meeting, and show up early.
  • Even if your local police station hasn't expressly invited the public to conduct all sales on the premises, you can arrange to meet a prospective iPad seller, for example, in front of a police station -- or possibly even in the lobby.
  • Don't give out personal information, but try to find out as much as you can about the other person, and check to see if he or she has a criminal record.

Then again, there are also some stories about how Craigslist actually helps solve some crimes.

A Florida man whose $700 bicycle was stolen on Friday saw an ad for a bike that looked a lot like it on Craigslist on Sunday, according to the Gainesville Sun. Samuel Gause arranged to meet with the seller -- but he also alerted the police. An officer showed up at the meeting and made the arrest.


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Jan 25, 2012 7:20AM
My wife and I never have any trouble at all.  We live in Az. and we have c.c. and open carry laws.  We both choose to open carry so there is no doubt that we are packing.  One or both of us always has a gun on us or within reach.  We do not fool around with locks or not having a shell chambered.  We both want to have a piece of lead come out of the barrel as soon as one of our weapons is pointed and the trigger pulled, that is one of the reasons we carry, if it comes down to having to use a firearm, which we hope never happens.  But, we are ready just in case.  We also have concealed permits and have went through two different training schools. About the only place we cannot carry is a government building, airport or schools.  If anyone does not believe in firearms, I would like to see them put a sign in their front yard stating as such.
Jan 25, 2012 4:11AM
Fantastic idea! Kudos Milwaukee PD!
Jan 25, 2012 8:36AM
I posted rental of my home on Craig's list. I heard from someone in the UK.   The person wanted to rent my house for a year. I received a check for $6500. Which was $5000 more than I required. My instruction was to return $4000 in two checks and to send by Western Union. 

I checked with my bank after several days and found that the check was fraudulent

Thank goodness that I was able to find out about the check before I sent any money

Peter y
Jan 25, 2012 9:05AM
I have done several buying & selling transactions & has had no issues to-date in greater Washington DC area. One thing I recommend as a legitimate seller is not to reply to any e-mails with offers without a contact no. I usually state that out in the first line of listing. Also its good to mention that "if you see this ad, the item is available. This way you avoid scammers who send emails asking "is the item still available?" even at times it was just listed. As a legitimate buyer, I always request to meet at a public place & most times, I have met during daylight. Don't bother with ads that list a brand new item worth $ 500 listed for $ 200 where no contact info is provided. Once you reply, your e-mail box will get filled with junk mail like product offers etc. Another scam I have seen is that you get a reply saying the item was just sold but here's where I got it & a link to some website. If it looks too good to be true, don't bother with it UNLESS a contact no. is given as most likely its a scam.
Jan 25, 2012 6:58AM

I think this is a great idea. If, and when, this kind of thing becomes the norm, folks like me will feel more safe buying and selling on CL.

In the past, I have backed out of a transaction because, after much thought, it seemed too good to be true.  The gentleman on the other end was probably legit, but, honestly, my safety comes before a box of used books.

Jan 25, 2012 5:54AM
Check this one out, you could get a legal CC permit if that's what your state issues. In most scenarios, that's a deterrent and lets face it, clime stats show unquestionable proof of this. If however you are not comfortable with that as I know some are not, you could always bring several friends with you who are known to handle their own if you know what I mean. Go to you local McDonalds except have your friends sitting at several locations around you just incase. Simple thinking prior to something that could end up taking your life is worth it. If people think your paranoid or overreacting, good for them. Better you come back home safe than have those friends wishing you would have just asked them to come along and have your back.
Jan 25, 2012 5:44AM
I'm a Craigls List Seller & Buyer of Macbook computers and strictly use MacDonald's, and after the sale I eat there, the buyer feels comfortable and I feel comfortable. And they are always busy so lots of people always around....  And as far as the Crack dealers house I had one next to me and a person visiting there got stabbed 8 times, not the best place to be that's for sure .. Live and learn LOL
Jan 25, 2012 7:54AM
I went on craiglist to look for an apartment or house to rent.  I came across a house for rent for $700.00.  I looked at the house and went to  the address and the house was not the picture it showed on craiglist.  The man sent me an application.  I told my son something is wrong.  In Massachusetts rent for a house is not 700, no way in hell,  but I figure I would check it out and it was a scam.  I email the idiot back and told him your a scam artist.  So you do have to becareful.  If I went thru and did not check out this house.  He would not have been the idiot, I would have been.
Jan 25, 2012 8:01AM

always request a contact# for any reply! do not respond to any others! when you recieve mail with the {is it still available} go to bottom of mail and report to craigslist! if they are company's or stores selling! report them to get them removed! if you see a spam posting-report them! craigslist is a free site for the people, not for stores,spamers and other rip off sites! we always have places or people that fall into the holes set by crooks! ebay is great if you want to payout about 30% to them and shipping! oh and you still do all the work! ebay,paypal and capital visa are there to help you and separate some of your money to them!

Jan 25, 2012 4:37AM
Not a new or original idea though. I've conducted Craigslist exchanges at the local police station parking lot since the news report over a year ago about the man who was killed defending his family after selling a diamond ring and having the buyer/ thieves come to his home. If you plan on having cash to buy or have an expensive item to sell keep yourself safe and do the transaction at the police station. A public area isn't good enough. There was just a story recently where the buyer was robbed of cash at gunpoint in a public parking lot. Obvioulsy it wasn't safe enough.
Jan 25, 2012 10:52AM

when my adult son sells on CL, he never goes alone.   we get to our meeting place, ONE BLOCK FROM THE LOCAL PD, about 5-10 minutes early and watch for the buyer.  We have plans set in place for every possible scenario.  I wont tell you what I keep under the front seat.


I was looking for a used Jeep on CL.  I started seeing different colored Jeeps with the same ads, the same Paperword for work done, even a new transmission sheet and reciepts.   I wrote to the seller and told him/ her I noticed the same paperwork and said:  "I hope you're doing everything per the LAW.  I am watching you."    The person pulled their ads, but I'm still watching.

Jan 25, 2012 9:21AM
This is a great idea!! For those who are looking to do business in the proper fashion. For those that do not they will not and your well being might just have been saved.  
Jan 25, 2012 11:03AM
At the police of the best suggestions I have heard!
Jan 25, 2012 8:13AM
Did the cops think of that one ? 
Jan 25, 2012 10:34AM
I was lucky to have had a positive experience with the people I met up with when I was buying a used violin a few months ago, and I was aware of the dangers people have already faced and took what I thought were extra precautions (carrying cellphone in my hand, meeting at a busy gas station, etc).  This is a wonderful idea!  I have no doubt the people I met would not have had a problem meeting in front of a police station (in fact I still keep in touch with the woman whose violin I bought), and any transactions I make in the future will be done in that manner.  I wish I would have thought of it...I have a 4 year old and a family to take care of, and I plan on buying and selling items on craigslist in the near future.  Just goes to can never be too careful and even people who think they are smart can learn something new!
Jan 25, 2012 10:57AM
i love c l. i sell off it all the time,and have bought stuff too!! for the most part people replying to the ad's are just people looking for a good deal! loove it!!
Jan 25, 2012 9:49AM
keep alert, when they don't meet at the PD then run , good article
Jan 25, 2012 10:35AM
To another unemployed american"  The UM campus police are on University property and. at least when I worked at the U, they were hired by the U were university employees, not regular law enforcement, although they had same duties and worked with A2 police. no, I would not think that they would allow business transactions on campus. They really don't have the manpower either.  In our town you'd be doing transactions on the street, because the police moved downtown, are locked up after hours, and the parking lot is gated and locked, so there isn't a place to do transactions unless it is before 4pm.  We have state, sheriff, city and berg law enforcement,but there really isn't a place to transact business so easily.  The problem still is, being followed home.  Has there been any studies done on why the horrific crimes seem to like this 'list;  I much rather do business with a store locally, a place that people are screened, have criminal background checks have had their references checked and we can pretty much, by reputation that it is an okay place to buy something.  It gives people jobs here, so I only resort to the internet if I can't get it locally or don't travel on vacation to get a specific.  The internet is highly unreliable.  Ten years ago, I might not have thought so, but at the rate it has sucked people's jobs, their identities, and closed so many businesses well, they can keep it.  I use it for specific things, but it is too crime riddled, and hackers abound, so no, it might be better if people would begin going back to some older ways.
Jan 25, 2012 10:06AM
well I have been scammed from GL, once for 2850.00, which I was not aware of low life's doing this to hard working individuals like myself, and the second time, I was smarter this time. I did file with the FBI and IC3 website but received the following response when I hadn't heard from them: 

After you file a complaint with the IC3, the information is reviewed by an analyst and forwarded to all law enforcement and regulatory agencies with jurisdiction.  The IC3 does not conduct investigations and therefore, is not able to provide status of a previously filed complaint.  The IC3 receives thousands of complaints monthly and does not have the resources to respond to these inquiries.  It is the IC3’s intention to review every complaint and refer them to law enforcement and regulatory agencies having jurisdiction.  Investigation and prosecution is at the discretion of the receiving agencies.

which pretty much means I am not going to get my 2850.00 back, since they don't have the man power or really care because it was so little of an amount, to someone like myself who's single and works very hard for her money and lives pay check to pay check this is a very big amount. It has put stress on my life like no one even realizes.

It happened a second time, but I was smart this time, I confronted the individual in an email and do you think I heard back from him HELL NO!!! 

It won't happen again because I nothing will be done about it..........

very disappointed in our judicial system, who don't care about the hard working individuals like myself who get scammed, and it doesn't matter how much, a scam is a scam.......

Michigan Resident

Jan 25, 2012 10:20AM

I had some stuff to clear out and used EB AY years ago.  I had it go into a special account, used a quirky biz name, and used a post office box.  Now the post office and those who needed to know knew who I was, but it was for safety.  No home address, no name and no phone contact.  If I hadn't done it that way, I'd have just donated it, rather got some returns on stuff and gave more school clothes to the grandkids and supplies for kids at the public school.  It gave me something to do for a little while, but I went to lengths to shelter me from the outside.  I don't know why Craigslist has such a bad reputation.  Perhaps its the wider audience.  I know some who use it, but I don't like it that they are.  Here the local radio station has a trading radio call in, and of course there are the yard sales, and want ads which have not had a problem.  They did break up a fairly large theft ring selling on EBAY though.  So even small town America is not immune from internet-based crimes.

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