Police nationwide are warning of a sharp rise in Internet-related crime called "'robbery-by-appointment," with cops in one city even suggesting people meet at the station house to complete their transactions.
In a typical case, somebody with something to sell-an old laptop, let's say-goes online to find a buyer by using Craigslist or some similar service. The seller finds a buyer, and the two agree to meet in person to consummate the sale. But when they meet, the seller gets robbed (and maybe beaten up or worse) by his "buyer."
So common have these crimes become that in Oakland, Calif., the police have created a special investigative unit devoted to combating them. "They're getting more blatant and more violent," an Oakland police spokesperson says. "The last victim got pretty beat up."
In Washington state, one robbery-by-appointment ended in death, when a man who had a diamond ring to sell was shot dead by robbers who showed up, supposedly to buy it.
Experts say many of these robberies are happening in broad daylight and in neighborhoods believed safe. They recommend meeting in a busy public place as one way of decreasing the odds that you'll be taken.
In Milwaukee, police are recommending that anybody worried about becoming a victim meet his buyer (or seller) at the safest place in town-the police station itself. Six Craigslist-related robberies have occurred in one Milwaukee district in the past month, reports the Journal-Sentinel.
"If they don't want to meet you at a safe place, 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," police officer Lisa Staffold told the newspaper.
Maybe she should have stressed "in" the station: In Bogata, N.J., a seller met a buyer a few blocks from the police station but wound up being relieved of his MacBook at gunpoint.