Police seeking info on Craigslist crimes

By Tony E. Windsor

In addition to traditional catalysts for crime, such as dark alleys and "seedy" areas of towns, police are being exposed to an entirely new crime frontier - the Internet. More and more, law enforcement is seeing crimes committed after individuals have been in communication on the computer. Recently, this type of crime has hit close to home as Laurel Police are now investigating two robberies that came about as the result of ads posted on Craigslist. The Laurel Police Department is asking for the public's help in two recent armed robbery cases. Both of these robberies occurred in Wexford Village in Laurel. According to Det. Sgt. Derrick Callaway, Laurel Police Department, the first robbery occurred on March 24 at about 12:30 a.m. The victim, an unidentified man, had responded to an ad on Craigslist for a car. The man was directed by the ad to respond to Wexford Village to see the vehicle. Once the victim arrived at Wexford Village he was robbed at gun point by two black males. Callaway said a second robbery occurred on March 30 at about 3:30 p.m. The victim in this case also answered an ad on Craigslist for a car. This victim was also instructed to respond to Wexford Village to see the vehicle. Once the victim arrived he was met by two black males. The victim in this case attempted to fight back; however two or three additional males joined in the fight and held him down. The victim said one of the assailants told him that he had a gun. At that point the man stopped fighting his attackers. The suspects were able to get an undisclosed amount of money prior to running away. A witness to the robbery told police that the assailants may have gotten into two separate red vehicles. Callaway said he has been in contact with the Delaware State Police High-Tech Crimes Unit and the Wicomico Sheriff's Department in an attempt to find out if any other crimes of this type have occurred in the local area. "Internet crimes are still new to us," Callaway said. "But, like any crime investigation it involves following a paper trail and in this case a data trail. Eventually, we will get that one piece of evidence that ties the whole thing together and we will make an arrest." Callaway said he has been in contact with representatives of Craigslist and is getting their cooperation. "We will be able to get the IP (Internet Provider) address of where the ad originated and with the help of local internet providers we can trace the ad to the actual computer that it was ordered from," he said.

Callaway said he has seen other types of crimes throughout the country that have originated with Craigslist advertising, but this is the first he has seen locally. "People have to understand that whether it is Craigslist, or any number of Internet-based advertisements, they must be careful when meeting the people they do not know," he said. "They should never meet unless it is in a public place and they have someone go with them. Also, do not take cash. Use a cashier's check." Craigslist was started in San Francisco by IT expert Craig Nemark in 1995 as an e-mail list for friends and co-workers to be kept abreast of local happenings in the San Francisco Bay area. The site boasts of as many as 30 million new classified ads posted, 30 million people using the site and nine billion page views each month. Information about crimes associated with Craigslist has spawned a website, "Craigs Crime List," which spotlights current crimes associated with the popular website. Callaway said he has copies of the two ads that were posted on Craigslist and resulted in the two Laurel robberies. Interestingly enough, he said the ads were not particularly appealing in terms of attracting a quick sale. One of the ads was for a 1995 Acura Integra with 154,000 miles and the other vehicle was listed as a 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse with 114,000 miles. Both vehicles had an asking price of $3,000. "I do not think I would have any interest in purchasing these vehicles, especially with the high mileage," Callaway said. Callaway said the investigation is continuing into both robberies and once information comes from Craigslist and the local Internet provider, the police can track where the ads originated and execute search and seizure warrants. "Even if they throw the computer in the river, we can still track down the location of the computer that was used to post the ad on Craigslist," he said. "We can seize the computer and get personal information that can lead us to our suspects. We may talk to 20 people, but eventually we will get that one person who can give us the information we need to make an arrest." Anyone with information about either of the robberies in Wexford Village is asked to contact the Laurel Police Department at 875-2244, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333 or on the web at www.tipsubmit.com All information remains anonymous.

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