Thursday, March 27, 2008

Online classified hoax ad ends in grief for absent homeowner

Online classified hoax ad ends in grief for absent homeowner

Craigslist a favourite with opportunistic fraudsters

Vito Pilieci, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Jacksonville, Oregon, man was shocked to find people rummaging through his personal belongings on the weekend as the result of a fake advertisement that someone had placed on the popular Internet classified ad site, Craigslist.

The ad stated that a homeowner, Robert Salisbury, was forced to immediately vacate his house and move out of the country. As a result, the ad went on to say, the sheriffs department had declared the contents of the home, as well as Mr. Salisbury's horse, abandoned. It urged anyone who was interested in the home's contents to drive to the house and take whatever they wanted. The ads appeared on the website on Saturday afternoon.

Mr. Salisbury, who was away for the day, found out about the ad when he was contacted by a woman who had turned up to check on the horse.

Michelle Easley said she saw the ad on Craigslist and raced over to make sure the horse was in good health. She found the horse in perfect health, but was surprised by the people ransacking Mr. Salisbury's home.

She decided to call the homeowner to make sure the ad was real.

Mr. Salisbury raced home to find cars and trucks full of his belongings leaving the property. Rummagers had taken everything, including his appliances, electronics, gardening equipment and even the swing on his front porch. When he tried to confront some of them, they showed him the Craigslist ad drove off.

"I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back," Mr. Salisbury told the Associated Press on the weekend. "They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did."

He entered his home and found another 30 people ransacking his belongings.

The police were called and managed to control the situation, but numerous trucks and cars jammed with Mr. Salisbury's belongings had already left.

Police said anyone caught with his property in their possession would be charged with theft.

By Tuesday afternoon, some of those involved returned what they had taken, as piles of Mr. Salisbury's stuff began to appear on his driveway.

Police have also contacted Craigslist and asked for information that may help identify the person that posted the fake ads.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened on Craigslist. The popular online classified site has become a favourite stalking place for fraudsters. In April, a Tacoma, Washington woman placed a similar hoax ad on Craigslist as a way of getting back at her aunt's landlord. The ad read, "Moving out ... House being demolished. Come and take whatever you want, nothing is off limits."

Mobs turned up and stripped the landlord's house, taking everything including the stainless steel sinks.

The woman was caught and charged with second-degree burglary and criminal impersonation in May.

In an e-mail statement sent by Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best yesterday, the company claims it is doing everything it can to find out who is behind the incident.

"Misuse of craigslist for illegal purposes is absolutely unacceptable to us, and we will work together with law enforcement until the perpetrator of this outrage has been brought to justice," read the statement. "Craigslist is an extremely unwise choice for committing crime, since criminals inevitably leave an electronic trail to themselves that law enforcement officers will follow."

According to the Ottawa Police Service, nothing like this has been reported in Ottawa.