When a man wanted to come to her apartment to look at the cellphone she was selling on Craigslist, Phelomina got an uneasy feeling. Phelomina, who agreed to talk to The Dispatch if only her first name were published, said she didn't want a stranger coming to her home. So she thought she was playing it safe when she agreed to meet the man on Oct. 14 at a Burger King on Rt. 161 on the North Side.
When a man wanted to come to her apartment to look at the cellphone she was selling on Craigslist, Phelomina got an uneasy feeling.
Phelomina, who agreed to talk to The Dispatch if only her first name were published, said she didn’t want a stranger coming to her home. So she thought she was playing it safe when she agreed to meet the man on Oct. 14 at a Burger King on Rt. 161 on the North Side.
But as she leaned into his car window, the man pushed her and drove off with her cellphone.
She could have lost much more. Phelomina was holding her 6-month-old daughter when she was knocked over. Phelomina, 19, who lives on the North Side, suffered scrapes and bruises. Her daughter was uninjured.
Local law-enforcement officers have dealt with a recent rash of Craigslist cases in which people selling or buying items end up victims, even though they meet in a public place that they assume makes them safe.
Sgt. James Jardine, of the Columbus police robbery squad, said he advises people to meet for Craigslist deals in a public place — but also indoors.
“Do the transaction inside, eating a burger,” Jardine said.“You need to take vehicles out of the equation.”
Hanh Nguyen, 32, and My Vien, 23, who live on the North Side, were selling a MacBook Pro computer on Craigslist in August. They agreed to meet a woman at the United Dairy Farmers store at Morse and Sunbury roads on the Northeast Side.
The buyer — sitting in her car — asked them for a closer look at the computer. Once the woman had the computer on her lap, she hit the gas with Nguyen hanging on to the car door. She was dragged several feet in the parking lot. Vien was knocked over. Both ended up with minor injuries.
Sometimes, it’s the buyers who are being lured into a trap.
A St. Louis couple flew to Columbus in 2009 to buy a Cadillac Escalade advertised on Craigslist for $7,000. They were taken to a remote area by the supposed seller and robbed of their cash.
“Be aware of the surroundings; and if it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Jardine said.
Central Ohio Crime Stoppers recently issued an alert regarding Lavail L. White, 21, who is wanted on two charges of aggravated robbery stemming from Craigslist advertisements.
On Christmas Eve last year, a man lured by a Craigslist ad for an iPad went to a parking lot near the intersection of E. Dublin-Granville Road and Busch Boulevard on the North Side. White is accused of robbing the man at gunpoint, taking his wallet and cellphone. White also is facing an aggravated-robbery charge in a similar Craigslist crime in the same area on March 21, when another cellphone was taken.
Columbus police robbery-squad detective Phillip Thomas said White might be involved in more robberies. He is suspected of placing fake ads or responding to legitimate ads on Craigslist.
“You’ve got to have your Spidey sense activated when you’re doing these transactions,” Thomas said.
Jardine said he advises people who are buying or selling items on Craigslist to get to the exchange location early and look around. If a person wants to change the locale, “That should be a red flag,” Jardine said.
Trevor Perry, 31, of the South Side, took two friends with him on Aug. 26 when he agreed to pay $1,500 for a motorcycle advertised on Craigslist.
They met the seller outside an Applebee’s restaurant on Brice Road on the Far East Side. Perry handed over the cash but wanted to drive the motorcycle, which was practically out of gas. So they all went to a Reynoldsburg gas station, with Perry driving the motorcycle. After arriving at the Speedway, Perry said, the seller asked to sit on his bike “one last time.”
“No sooner had he swung his leg over the bike, he hit the start button,” Perry said. And the man took off with Perry’s $1,500.
Columbus police did make an arrest in that case, charging Adam C. Leonard, 21, of the South Side, with theft and receiving stolen property. Perry said he later learned that the motorcycle he was trying to buy had been stolen.
Perry said his encounter has not deterred him from browsing Craigslist. But he has learned one thing from his experience: “There are no guarantees.”