Use caution on Craigslist

By Nichole Seguin

Richard Kuhn, a second-year student at Michigan State University, may never buy anything online again. He sat down with an Oakland Post editor to share his story about one family’s online nightmare.

Oakland Post: Can you tell us what happened?

Richard Kuhn: Two of my dad’s friends thought they could harmlessly buy a four-wheeler online. … One man asked his friend to accompany him to Detroit to buy a four wheeler he found a good deal for on Craigslist. … At a parking lot in Detroit, the duo met with the man they contacted online. Although the four-wheeler looked like a good deal, the seller could not produce a key and asked for a ride back to his house to pick it up. … The seller … attempted to mug the men of the money they had and the truck they drove. The friend accompanying the buyer was shot and instantly killed after he tried to stop the mugger. …The buyer attempted to escape the truck and narrowly made it to safety after the gunman’s gun malfunctioned. The killer escaped with the money and the truck. The truck was found hours later, stripped of its rims and other accessories and the seller got away.

OP: How do you think this could have been prevented?

Kuhn: The buyer thought he was doing the right thing by taking a friend along to back him up. Although it was probably a good idea, I would have done things different. For starters, I think that the location is a key safety hazard. The men were unfamiliar with their surroundings and even though they met at a location that was fairly populated, they were still unfamiliar. Secondly, they had a large sum of money on hand. This is exactly what the criminal was hoping for and went after. Thirdly, the men made the mistake of allowing a stranger to ride with them in their vehicle. By leaving the safety of their meeting place and confining themselves to the privacy of the vehicle, it gave the criminal the opportunity to strike, an opportunity he took advantage of.

OP: What else do you think should be done to avoid events like this?

Kuhn: Nothing can be done to bring back the life of the man who was murdered, but to prevent tragedies such as this one from happening again, people should think smartly about the people they are doing business with. If the neighborhood seems shady, seller (or buyer) seems suspicious, or if certain aspects of the transaction seem fishy, then say “no.” If somebody pays attention to the aforementioned warnings and still finds themselves in a tight situation, it would seem reasonable to avoid confrontation as much as possible. If I were in a situation like that, I would first try to excuse myself. … If that option is not available, comply with the criminal and call for help. I would also always carry a phone.

OP: Why do you think people offer so much information online?

Kuhn: I think people are overly trusting these days. Until they have experienced negative effects of offering too much sensitive information online, they don’t know the risks they face. In the case of Craigslist, it’s not even the information that the criminal had before the fact. It was the over-trusting demeanor of the victims that got them into trouble. I have a set of general rules that I try to live by while online, … (which)include(s) staying as quiet as possible. I try not to broadcast the valuables I may have, any key information about myself, or even information that could allow somebody to find where I live. Providing a detailed profile of likes, interests or personality may be the open door that crooks need to win over your trust, and I feel like a lot of people give that away too easily.

OP: How has this altered your online habits?

Kuhn: I have always been leery of Craigslist, but in the future I will plan more safety steps into my transactions. I will be very skeptical of the people I am dealing with and may suggest meeting in a very secure place such as a police department or somewhere that is not remote or secluded. I also think more about sites other than Craigslist that could be potentially dangerous in the same ways. Networking webites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and even online dating sites are places where Internet predators prey. 

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Online habits may require extra attention

In an era where almost everything has been technologically converted, Internet users from all over the world have been given the ability to shop online. Whether or not this is a good idea depends on what kind of shopping database is used and how responsibly the transactions are handled.

OUPD detective David Birkholz said that most people often ignore some obvious warnings when it comes to purchasing things online.

“There’s always the chance you could be buying stolen merchandise, and those chances are higher online,” Birkholz said. “Look for scratched off serial numbers or words stenciled in and just keep an eye out.”

With Craigslist, it is the responsibility of the users to figure out how to exchange money for product, and according to the Craigslist privacy policy, “Craigslist shall not be responsible or liable for any loss or damage of any sort incurred as the result of any such dealings.”

“In any crime, when you go somewhere and meet, your chances for crime improve immensely once you are isolated. Criminals are not going to stand in an area where there are too many eyewitnesses,” Birkholz said. “They’ll look for somewhere more private.”

Other sites like Amazon and eBay allow users to purchase on a larger scale. Amazon is most notably known for the purchase of books and it’s Kindle, which is a player for digital books, while eBay is an online auction for all types of different things from cars to autographed baseball cards.

“I’ve noticed that I have found much better deals on school books from Amazon and eBay,” senior Ashley Uhl said. “I saved a good amount of money shopping there this year, as opposed to the OU bookstore, and I feel a lot safer there, but I’m still cautious.”

A majority of department stores have also made the multimedia switch, allowing their customers to skip the wait in line for a sale.

“You never know when it’s safe to use your card online,” sophomore Lisa Coppola said. “It may be easier than going to the store, but it’s hard to tell which sites are secure. One of my friends actually had her identity stolen when she bought a CD online. The best way to stay safe is to protect yourself in all aspects possible.”

Although online shopping is easy and convenient with the perks it offers, making decisions throughout the shopping process can sometimes be the difference between life, death and identity crisis.