Craigslist deals turn violent for several would-be buyers
08:11 AM CDT on Wednesday, September 10, 2008
By WENDY HUNDLEY / The Dallas Morning News
David Zoller has bought and sold items on Craigslist for five years without
So the North Dallas resident wasn't suspicious when he spotted an ad for a
big-screen TV that he figured was worth about $2,100 selling for a cool
$1,000. He contacted the man who placed the ad, and they agreed to
meet at the man's house in Garland. The seller explained that he was
breaking up with his girlfriend and had to move out of the house in the 2200 block of West Kingsley Road.
"He said 'Don't be alarmed if the house is empty,' " said Mr. Zoller, who
went to the house on July 17 with his colleague Guy Grivas.
"There was nothing out of the ordinary," said Mr. Zoller, a commercial real
But once they got inside the house, they were greeted by a gunman with a
red bandanna over his face who stole their money and cellphones.
"When he put a gun in my face, my philosophy is: Don't argue. I went
motionless and lowered myself to the ground," Mr. Zoller said. "It was over
in 20 seconds."
Police say Mr. Zoller and Mr. Grivas are two of several victims who have
been robbed in recent weeks when responding to classified ads placed on
Craigslist. They're trying to warn unsuspecting buyers to use caution when
purchasing items from strangers on the popular online listing service.
"Hundreds of these transactions take place all the time, and most are
legitimate," said Richardson police Sgt. Kevin Perlich. "But sometimes they
can turn out to be a scam or a robbery."
Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster issued a statement Tuesday expressing
sympathy for the robbery victims and stating that violent crime on the site
is "extremely rare."
"Nevertheless, we do urge our users to use the same common-sense
precautions online that they would use offline," Mr. Buckmaster said. "For
example, users should choose a public meeting place like a cafe when
meeting someone for the first time."
Sgt. Perlich believes that one or two suspects are behind the crimes and
that they always use the same setup: They tell the buyers they have to sell
the items quickly and to bring cash. The suspects break into a vacant home
where they arrange to meet the victims.
That's what happened on Aug. 27 to a young couple who went to a vacant home
in the 1500 block of Stonecrest Drive in Richardson. A Honda Accord had
been posted on Craigslist for $6,000.
"They didn't bring any money with them," Sgt. Perlich said. "So they kept
the woman at the house and told him to go to make a withdrawal."
One suspect followed the man to a bank machine, while the other kept the
woman hostage until the man returned with the money. The couple was
unharmed, but they were so traumatized by the ordeal that they didn't even
report the crime to police until urged to do so by a friend, Sgt. Perlich
A similar crime took place Aug. 1 in Garland. The victims arrived at a
house in the 2400 block of Patricia Lane to buy a 2001 Volkswagen Jetta.
They were robbed of $5,000.
In all three cases, the buyers arrived at homes in middle-class
neighborhoods and didn't suspect that anything was amiss until it was too
"There were neighbors outside, traffic on the road. It wasn't a rundown
kind of place," Mr. Grivas recalls of the Kingsley Road address. "Looking
back, you can see how good the setup was. We should have seen some signs."
Police have not made any arrests in the cases and have no suspects.
Such crimes are not new, however. Last year, a man from the Waco area was
robbed and killed when he came to Dallas to buy a car he saw advertised on
the Internet. Police said Christian Marton, 21, was confronted by an armed
man when he pulled up in front an apartment complex in Lake Highlands.
Mr. Zoller said that he'll continue to buy and sell merchandise over the
Internet but that he will be more careful.
"It's really important to protect yourself," he said. "The money is
replaceable. Your life is not."
Tips when buying off Craigslist
•Meet in public places, like a bank or store where there are security
cameras and plenty of people.
•Never take a large amount of cash when meeting a stranger.
•Have a friend wait a distance away on a cellphone and keep the line open.
If they hear anything suspicious, they can contact police.
•Never enter a house if someone yells for you to come inside.
•Be aware of your surroundings and leave if something seems suspicious.