From Craigslist posting to night of terror and murder

Add this to the perils of the Internet era, which already include increased exposure to stalkers, pedophiles, and financial frauds: Police in the state of Washington believe that a 43-year-old man was killed last week by robbers who were after a diamond ring he listed for sale on Craigslist.

According to, the family in Edgewood, Wash., just east of Tacoma, was attacked by four robbers who posed as possible buyers to get into the family's home and came armed with guns and "zip ties," which are used to bind electrical cable:

Once inside, they shot and killed the 43-year-old father, pistol whipped his 14-year-old son and tied up the mom and the younger son. Police say the younger son managed to get the ties off and called 911 after the attackers fled in a car.

You can read the King5 story here, and a Seattle Weekly blog item here.

The Safe Internet Alliance says the horrific story illustrates the particular risks of the freewheeling (and free) interactions on a site such as Craigslist.

In a Safe Internet blog post, Linda Criddle, a Seattle consultant, suggests these precautions if you use a site such as Craigslist,  beginning with designing the ad itself:   
  • Don’t put any information that identifies you personally in the ad if it’s not strictly necessary. Keep in mind that every piece of information you post may be used for other purposes than you intended. Limit your information to limit your risk.
  • Don’t put your phone number in the ad. Keep in mind that reverse look-up directories may provide a wealth of information about you that can be used in ways you had not intended
  • Review any photos in the ad for identifiable information, like car license plates, house numbers, street signs, etc. and mask them.

The Safe Internet Alliance points out that e-commerce sites such as eBay offer their own security measures, such as the use of a secure payment system.

But those are hardly guarantees - eBay transactions can turn to unprotected fraud if they lead to what eBay calls "back alley" transactions outside its security umbrella. (Ironically, Craigslist own list of "Scams" tips, geared to concerns about financial fraud, starts with this advice: "DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of the scam attempts on craigslist." On the other hand, Craigslist's Safety advice for a first meeting starts with (1) "Insist on a public meeting place like a cafe," and (2) "Do not meet in a secluded place, or invite strangers into your home.")

Sadly, nothing offers an ironclad guarantee against encountering bad guys - though basic common sense helps, especially if you're telling the world you have valuable items such as jewelry. Diamond rings offered on Craigslist were at the heart of at least two Pennsylvania robbery attempts last year. You can read about one foiled attempt reported on here - meeting in a public place didn't help, but the robber's greed allowed the victim (and Philly police) to strike back.

It's easy to forget, but the flip side of the Internet's gift of access to a world of wonder is that it can also expose you to a world of hurt.