Craiglist CEO says crooks who use site will be caught

By Steve Karnowski

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The chief executive of Craigslist has a message for criminals who try to use the popular Internet advertising site: You’re going to get caught.

In the wake of high-profile violent crimes in Minnesota and Boston in which the alleged attackers found their victims with ads on Craigslist, Jim Buckmaster, CEO of the Web site, also said his company is trying to spread the word that users should take the same precautions on line as they would off line.

"Criminals are learning that Craigslist is an extremely unsafe venue for criminal activity because you’re virtually guaranteeing that you’re going to get caught," Buckmaster said Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from San Francisco. "That’s been the case with nearly every serious violent crime that’s been connected with the site. There’s an electronic trail leading to yourself. So don’t use Craigslist for crime unless you want to go to jail."


Craigslist has found itself in the headlines once again this week because of the case of a Boston University medical student, Philip Markoff, 23, who’s accused of robbing women who advertised erotic services on Craigslist and killing one of them. Earlier this month, a Minnesota man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing a woman who answered a phony ad he posted for a baby sitter.

Buckmaster declined to say much about how Craigslist is cooperating with authorities investigating the Boston case.

"We were shocked and saddened to learn that a horrific crime like this had any connection to the use of Craigslist, and our hearts went out to the family and friends of Julissa Brisman," he said.

Law enforcement officials generally ask that Craigslist not comment on what it’s doing in specific cases, he said, but added that the company offers its full cooperation.

"We make ourselves 100 percent available to them and provide them with any and all information we have that they may request," he said.

Buckmaster said the attention Craigslist has received because of crimes linked to it is partly a function of both how heavily the site is used and of the relative newness of the Internet.

"There are 50 million people using the site every month, and the site has facilitated billions of human interactions over its history. Compared to human society as a whole the risks of Craigslist are low, but they’re not zero," he said.

Buckmaster defended Craigslist’s inclusion of the "erotic services" classification on its sites. He said users requested it so those ads would be posted there, where users can avoid them, instead of being scattered among other ad categories. He insisted illegal activity is "absolutely not welcome there." He said Craigslist will donate 100 percent of its net revenues from those ads to charities, under an agreement announced last November with 40 state attorneys general, though he said figures aren’t available yet.


Craigslist’s city sites include tips on personal safety and avoiding scams and fraud, and Buckmaster said the Minnesota and Boston cases provide an opportunity to remind people when they’re on the Internet in general and on Craigslist that it makes sense when meeting someone found through an online ad to take the same kinds of precautions they should take off line.

"Anytime you’re going to meet for the first time choose a public place where there are other people around. ... Consider bringing a friend along. Let someone know where you’re going to be and when you’ll be returning. Take your cell phone along. Trust your instincts and report suspicious activities to authorities," he said.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark will attend a benefit concert in Minnesota on May 3 for a scholarship fund at St. Olaf College in memory of Katherine Ann Olson, a 24-year-old who was slain in October 2007 by a loner who used a Craigslist ad to lure her to his home in the Minneapolis suburb of Savage. Prosecutors said the gunman, Michael John Anderson, 20, just wanted to experience what it was like to kill.

Buckmaster said they were inspired at Craigslist by the Olson family’s efforts to keep the focus of the case on Katherine Olson’s life and what she meant to so many people.

"When there was an opportunity for Craigslist to participate in some way, that was something we were excited about doing," he said.

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