Beware when buying or selling items online

Awareness of criminals using online trade sites is key to safe e-commerce

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - There is no doubt technology has made buying and selling goods much easier. More and more people are relying on online classifieds or trade sites to look for work, buy or sell items, rent homes or find lost items. Sadly, criminals are also utilizing this technology to rob unsuspecting victims of their money and property – even worse, some predators use it to sexually assault victims.

Craigslist, one of the more popular online trade sites, has had its share of criminal element making headlines in South Florida over the past few months.

In December, a Marine war veteran's girlfriend posted a gold necklace for sale on Craigslist. When a buyer expressed interest the Marine made plans to meet with him. The prospective "buyers," who arrived at a Deerfield Beach apartment complex to purchase the necklace, instead snatched it from the Marine, who in turn gave chase. One armed robber shot at the Marine, striking him several times. Fortunately, he will recover from his wounds and the two suspects were apprehended and charged accordingly. In another case in Pompano Beach, a would-be robber tried stealing an iPhone after responding to an advertisement posted online, but instead of cash the "buyer" pulled out a gun. The victim was able to grab the gun and restrain the robber until deputies arrived. In both of these cases the victims are lucky to still be alive.

In numerous other cases reported across the country, victims have been duped out of cash for apartments or vacation homes that were never available or owned by the advertiser, women have been raped when responding to ads for employment, stolen merchandise has been peddled and identities have been stolen. Since there is no screening or regulation, anybody can use Craigslist – even criminals.

While it is never my goal or the intent of the Broward Sheriff's Office to scare anyone from utilizing technology, including online trade sites, it is our mission to make sure you are fully aware of the criminal element who utilizes such sites. If you use Craigslist or know someone who does, please follow these safety tips:

  • Meet with a buyer or seller in the parking lot of a police station or district office (for a list of BSO district offices, visit: under the Law Enforcement tab). If the person refuses to meet in a safe place, you should find another buyer or seller.
  • Never wire money or transfer funds to make a purchase from online trade sites.
  • Never rent or buy a property without first seeing it on the inside (make sure you do not go inside the property alone), then check county records to verify the name of the property owner. If renting a vacation home, reserve making payments until you arrive at your destination.
  • When applying for a job, do not agree to a credit check or background check unless you meet the person placing the ad face-to-face at his or her place of business.
  • Trust your gut instinct – if something about a buyer or seller seems strange – it probably is.
  • If you believe someone is dealing in stolen property, please call your local law enforcement agency to report it immediately.

The recent reports of Craigslist robberies in South Florida should be alarming to all citizens who utilize online trade sites. While the only fool-proof way to prevent criminals from targeting users of online trade sites is to simply not use them, I know that is not realistic. I encourage all online buyers, sellers and traders to adhere to the safety tips I provided. 

As always, you can stay up to date about BSO news and information by visiting our website at, become a fan of our Facebook page (Broward Sheriff's Office – Official), follow us on Twitter@browardsheriff or sign up for our CyberVisor program.

Stay safe!

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