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Rival links Craigslist to 12 deaths, 330 crimes in past year

Craigslist can be dangerous, so much that a recently released study — commissioned by rival Oodle, which runs Facebook app Marketplace — calls it "a cesspool of crime." The report links the famous classified service to 330 crimes and 12 deaths in the U.S. over the course of a year — 20 deaths total since the site began 16 years ago. These findings have Craigslist's CEO protesting the innocence of the site, which conducts hundreds of millions of transactions among more than 50 million U.S. users.

While there has been an alleged serial killer tied to Craigslist, the 56-page study — which has the totally unbiased Lifetime TV movie title of "Crime and Craigslist: A sad tale of murders and more" — goes for the jugular from the get-go, with this introduction, under the heading, "Craigslist: A site of murder and mayhem":

Sadly, Craigslist has become a cesspool of crime. Murders. Rapes. Robberies. Hitman-for-hire. Assault. Fraud. Rental rip-offs. Unfortunately, these are everyday occurrences involving people who use Craigslist to buy or sell, or for worse.  And the old rules — "meet in public;" "always tell someone where you’re going;" "know who you’re dealing with" — often don’t work on Craigslist.

While 330 crimes (which include 74 robberies and 31 assaults) over a year does make for an almost "everyday" occurrence, 20 deaths in 16 years does not — though an average of one death a month for this past year is, at the very least, disturbing. "Four of those were women whose bodies were found in December on Gilgo Beach near New York City. They’re believed to be victims of a serial killer who preyed on prostitutes who used Craigslist." 

Oodle says that the main difference between it and its more famous rival is accountability. Through this study, Oodle takes direct aim at the inherent danger of anonymous transactions, which do not happen on Marketplace, as it operates through Facebook. Listings and e-mail conversations are tied to a person's Facebook profile. Marketplace has over 14 million monthly unique users and is also available on mobile platforms, such as Android. 

"We were doing some focus groups, how they used online classifieds and it was pretty clear that interactions that began anonymously led to face-to-face encounters, and flaky behavior. What really struck us in all the focus groups was that everyone cited a close call, or where they felt really scared," said Craig Donato, Oodle CEO, in an interview this morning. "We just asked [AIM, the research group] to look at problems and crimes associated with online classifieds, and it quickly zoned in on Craigslist, which has the lion's share." 

Millions of Americans use Craigslist every day to sell items, find tickets or even a new job, but the number of people who enter the site to prey on users is growing, causing a spike in related crimes and deaths. Msnbc's Richard Lui reports.

Oodle couldn't have hired a better research group to find fault with Craigslist; even when it tries to give the benefit of the doubt to Craigslist, AIM can't help but be back-handed.

To be absolutely fair, Craigslist as an entity can't be blamed for the things that happen among its users. It's merely a facilitator of commerce, after all. And we understand thousands or even tens of thousands of transactions happen safely between Craigslist aficionados. Long before Craigslist, even, robberies were linked to newspaper classifieds from time to time. But that's no longer an excuse that Craigslist can hide behind.

Comments like this had the immediate effect of making Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster go ballistic in his response.

"Classified listings scraper/aggregator and CL wannabe Oodle has paid AIM Group to falsely portray Craigslist as fraught with criminal activity," Buckmaster told the Los Angeles Times. "If you strip away the false (and defamatory) paid-for editorial however, and look at the numbers AIM uses, a very different story emerges."

Sorry, that wasn't the ballistic part. This is the ballistic part.

Sounds scary until you compare that number to the 570 million classified ads posted by 100 million or more U.S. Craigslist users during that same time span, generating literally BILLIONS of human interactions, many involving face-to-face meetings between users who do not know one another," Buckmaster said. "AIM Group facetiously writes 'we understand thousands or even tens of thousands of transactions happen safely between Craigslist aficionados.'

THOUSANDS??? Shame on you AIM Group (and Oodle). You know better. Try HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS or BILLIONS of safe transactions. 

In this war of words between the CEOs, Donato has also posted his responses on the Oodle blog.

But, he also told us this in this morning's phone interview: "At the end of the day, this study highlights a big problem in our industry, potentially dangerous outcomes, and that there are alternative solutions they should know about."

He doesn't put the blame for the crimes on Craigslist. "I'm saying it's not their fault ... but I found the comments they made are odd. I don't know why, maybe they responded too quickly. Calling the data here insignificant doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It's clearly significant ... worthy of discussion. It's not an inappropriate message to get out. This is a problem and there are ways to address the issue."

While Donato insisted he didn't hold Craigslist responsible, his public relations firm didn't get the memo. This is the subject line of the e-mail they sent us about the study: "Craigslist responsible for 12 murders and nearly 100 robberies in 2010 - News for Thursday February 24th." 

When asked about crimes related to Oodle, Donato said that most of their issues have been with fraud, which they've vigorously pursued. Personal safety problems, he said, have not come to light. 

Oodle monitors communication between buyers and sellers, scanning for any suspicious activity.  For tips on how to buy and sell safely online check out the newly-revamped Oodle Safety Center. 

Crime enthusiasts will gobble up the report, which includes links to news stories that mention Craigslist's role in the crimes, divided into these sections: Killings, Robberies, Assaults, Prostitution-related crimes and Other. It even provides a link to a site dedicated to cataloging the danger of Craigslist, craigscrimelist. That site, like many others critical of Craigslist, says it's not enough to warn people and give tips. (In the past, Craigslist did do manual screenings of the now defunct adult service ads, and has worked with law enforcement to monitor suspicious activity that points to human trafficking and crimes against children.)  

In the press release that harkened the arrival of the study, these crimes were highlighted:

There was a recent rash of robberies in Oakland, California traced to a gang of men advertising luxury cars for sale on Craigslist and then robbing and in some cases assaulting buyers who responded. Police in Chicago have labeled Craigslist crimes "robbery by appointment," because criminals in the Windy City regularly use Craigslist to recruit victims and have the luxury of scheduling their crimes. The most notorious crime last year led to an entire family being taken hostage and the father shot dead in front of his wife and children, who were also assaulted.

These also caught our eye:

  • Sarah Weyrik was found stabbed to death in her burning car in June 2010 at an apartment complex in southwest Houston. She had posted a need for extra cash on Craigslist. (June 2010) 
  • Heather M. Snivley of Tigard, Ore., was killed and her unborn child cut from her womb after she met a woman to sell baby clothes. The suspect, who later pleaded guilty, had been posing as a pregnant woman. (June 2009) 
  • Pacifica, Calif., couple accused of pepper-spraying and stealing IPads from two people who answered ads on Craigslist.

Look for yourself. Will this make you think twice about doing business (or pleasure) on Craigslist?

More Craigslist stories:

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