Everything Gone, Including the Kitchen Sink

Trying to unload some household junk on Craigslist is nothing new, but what if somebody else tried to sell everything from your home -- without telling you?

Laurie Raye, a landlord in Tacoma, Wash., now has firsthand experience at Web-engineered looting. She received a call a few days ago from a neighbor, telling her that a rental property she owned was being burglarized.

By the time Raye arrived, her front lawn was littered with unwanted personal items. Inside the house, the water heater, light fixtures, newly fitted vinyl windows and the kitchen sink had been pried loose and carted away.

The Craigslist prank and subsequent free-for-all was no harmless April Fool's Day gag.

It shines a light on one of the potential downsides of e-commerce sites and raises the question of whether more controls need to be in place to avoid these type of incidents.

"By placing an ad and having people come and take everything, it stops you in your tracks," Raye said in a television interview. "They wanted to not only destroy it and steal, but they wanted to just make it feel like it's impossible to even consider cleaning up."

Raye was left devastated, tearful and confused. She also filed an incident report with police, who provided some insight.

An off-duty cop on March 30 was surfing Craigslist for spare auto parts. His duty beat included an area of east Tacoma, so he paid attention to a posting that advertised the entire contents of an address on a block he knew.

"It was along the lines of, free house, take everything you want," said Tacoma Police Department spokeswoman Gretchen Ellis. "He thinks, 'That's strange,' and filed it away in the back of his head."

Back on duty a few days later, Ellis said that the same police officer heard a call go out -- a burglary report at the exact address he'd seen on Craigslist while shopping for parts. He looked up the original ad and it was gone.

"He's pretty smart with the Internet," Ellis said, "so he Googled it, and found the first 35 characters, the header, on Google cache."

This information was subsequently added to the police incident report.

Internet usage advocates say that the use of Craigslist is not in any way an indictment of online advertising.

"A situation like this is ugly, but the fact that it is on the Internet is incidental," said Rebecca Jeschke, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supports Internet anonymity. "Craigslist is a great forum for a lot of people, and it's always unfortunate that there are a few bad apples."

Craigslist declined to comment on this case as a courtesy to law enforcement, but said that "any activity that violates our terms of use is NOT welcome on Craigslist at all."

No charges have been filed yet in what Ellis described as a "civil matter."

Of course, it's unclear how "civil" the case really is -- Raye had recently evicted her tenants.