01/27/10 — Craigslist response ends in robbery

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Craigslist response ends in robbery

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 27, 2010 1:46 PM

A scam involving a popular online community and a fraudulent listing on that site led to an assault and robbery late last week -- an incident highlighting the need for caution if meeting strangers located via the Internet, authorities say

Russell James Brown, 30, of Sedgefield Drive, Goldsboro, allegedly listed an Apple iPhone on Craigslist, a centralized network of online communities that offer classified ads, among other communications.

The victim, Patricio Rodriguez, reported that he met with Brown on Sunday in the parking lot of Lowe's on North Berkeley Boulevard to examine the phone, Goldsboro police said.

As Rodriguez looked over an empty box that Brown said contained the phone, Brown allegedly grabbed $300 from Rodriguez's hand and attempted to drive off, police said.

Goldsboro officers reported the robbery victim was dragged several feet before he let go.

Brown's vehicle was located shortly after the alleged robbery, police said. He was charged with common law robbery and assault with a deadly weapon and jailed under a $10,000 bond, police reports show.

Also arrested was Jason Neil Jolley of Warrick Circle, who was charged with being an accessory after the fact to a felony. A magistrate set a $5,000 secured bond for Jolley, records show.

Lt. Tom Flores of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office Financial Crimes Unit said this is the first Wayne County case he knows of in which a phony Internet listing was used to commit robbery.

"It does shock me, little old Goldsboro -- I guess that's our first case of it," Flores said. "But I guess it shouldn't shock anybody, because we're going to have more and more of these electronic-type of crimes."

Although Flores and other detectives have varying levels of computer skills, there is no one detective who specializes exclusively in Internet-based crime.

"We need someone who's a geek, but to get that geek you're going to have to pay," Flores said. "We really have to depend on the SBI" when dealing with certain types of computer crimes.

The financial crimes detective said distance between perpetrators and victims plays a role in which cases can be prosecuted.

"When you throw in the issue with the cross-county stuff, the across-state-line stuff, across-international-border stuff -- every time you cross a border, it becomes more and more difficult. The FBI's not going to help you out on a lot of this stuff."

The Sheriff's Office does engage in training when it is affordable, and has joined the Charlotte Metro Electronic Crimes Task Force as one means of networking with other law enforcement, the lieutenant said.

"They give us updates of the new crimes, and it involves law enforcement, private companies, academia," Flores said.

Although they called the incident involving the phony Craigslist auction alarming, Flores and Capt. Tom Effler said they would be caution against condemning any one site.

Flores offered a few simple rules of engagement for activities online -- the first of which is "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

It also pays to be cautious of online sellers, because there is often no way of telling if you are receiving stolen property when buying items online, the detective said.

Although the detective said he sympathizes with the victim, he said he would not agree to meet with anyone he met online.

"Agreeing to meet with someone you've met in one of these forums is kind of a bad idea," Flores said. "You never know if you're going to be scammed."