Police urge caution for Craigslist shoppers

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There are always risks when shopping online, but there's a lot you can do to protect yourself.

Just like many are hoping to cash in on the best deal during their holiday shopping, thieves are shopping too - for their next victim!

Craigslist continues to be a hotspot for crime. IMPD reports a spike in crime on the popular Internet classifieds website. Unsuspecting shoppers hoping to save a buck find their item of choice, make arrangements with the seller, but end up with a good deal gone bad. Then, instead of saving money, they end up losing it and the items they were after.

Michael Sparks is still shaken from a close encounter with an armed robber.

"He began to pull the gun out and come at me and, at that point, I just ran," he said.

Sparks was meeting a customer from Craigslist to sell a gaming system and TV. In the end, the customer stole from him, running away with the $600 worth of merchandise.

"I broke my own rules. Don't go to residential areas, ever," Sparks said.

Sparks is no stranger to Craigslist. He deals with the website for a living, working with dozens of customers, regularly buying and selling.

"We enjoy saving people money. We have people thank us all the time because the economy is really bad and people can't always afford to pay retail," he said.

Police have reported as many as five Craigslist-related robberies in the past couple weeks. But officers say Craigslist can be a valid option if you set some strict rules for yourself and stick to them.

"The first thing that you need to keep in mind is do not go alone, and second if something seems too good to be true, it probably is," said IMPD Officer Michael Hewitt. "If you're going to do a transaction, just tell the person, I live close to this district roll call, why don't we meet in the lobby of this police station and you could call ahead of time and let them know what you're doing and people would be welcome to do that."

Sometimes, the alarm bells go off before you ever even meet the person you're dealing with, perhaps when you're messaging the person to set up the transaction. Sparks says rule number one should be to always trust your gut.

"Don't do it. It's not worth it. There's no deal worth losing your life," he said.

As Craigslist grows in popularity, so do the scams. If you're wary of buying on the website, but still want to pursue a deal, do a web search for scams to see what's already been reported, so you know what to steer clear of.

If you're a seller, you also want to be careful. Police say don't invite strangers to your home, meet in a public place and never give out your personal information.

Officer Hewitt says you might also consider an alternative website, like eBay, where items are shipped and payment collected by third party PayPal.