Jun 14, 2010

Revealing the Faces Behind Online Classifieds.

Are you one of the millions who love to shop on the Internet? Convenient and easy, online spending is still just a fraction of total retail store spending but it is increasing each year, according to eMarketer and the National Retail Federation.With the recession, free online classified services in particular are rising in popularity including Oodle, Craigslist, and Backpage. According to a study completed in 2009 by the Pew Internet, in the past four years alone, the number of online adults who have used the online classified ads has more than doubled. Almost half (49%) of Internet users say they have ever used online classified sites, compared to 22% of online adults who had done so in 2005. But along with the rise in using online classifieds has come a rise in crime.

Craigslist, an online bulletin board community with sections devoted to jobs, personals, for sale, housing and more, has been called a breeding ground for fraud since its inception in 1995.

Craigslist relies on community policing…meaning it wants its community of users to report security issues and scams. Although the Internet company offers personal safety tips to “sidestep would-be scammers,” criminals continue to conceal their faces behind the mask of online classifieds. How can you know who is really on the other side of your transaction?

One of the most publicized crimes associated with online classifieds was in April, 2009, when Julissa Brisman, a masseuse and model from New York City, was killed at a Marriott by a medical student who answered her ad on Craigslist. Police also suspect this “Craigslist Killer” to be responsible for robbing two other women who advertised through the site.

In addition, in 2007, Donna Jou, a San Diego State University student, disappeared after placing a classified ad on Craigslist as a math tutor. John Burgess, a three-time sex offender answered her ad. He was later convicted and sentenced in 2009 to five years in prison for involuntary manslaughter for her death.

The common denominator to most of the crimes on Craigslist seems to be anonymity. Users are allowed to post ads anonymously, so criminals can hide behind their web browsers and prey on the unsuspecting public.

Do classified websites have to be structured anonymously? SafeList, a new online classified service company and a Codero client, doesn’t think so. In fact, the Donna Jou ordeal only added fuel to the fire for the founder and chairman of SafeList, Karim Pirani. He is more inspired than ever to launch his gated classified website that only allows users whose identify has been verified.

Karim says people are accustomed to presenting required identification in other areas of life and the Internet should be no different. For example, you would not drive a car without a driver’s license, testing and insurance…yet you are allowed to surf the web around the world with no restrictions in place. In fact, Microsoft’s chief of research and technology officer, Craig Mundie, suggested the need for driver’s licenses for the Internet when he spoke at the World Economic Forum in February.

When it comes to the Internet, the need for safety and security is paramount because in order to consummate transactions, it is almost mandatory for the two parties to meet face to face. SafeList, now in beta-testing, will be the first and only verified identify classifieds and coupons portal.

In an effort to curb the criminal activity in an area that is growing increasingly more sophisticated, the SafeList premise is simple…if the system knows who you are, you are less likely to commit a crime. Although anonymous screen names are available, behind each name, SafeList knows each participant’s true identity. SafeList is zip-code centric as well so advertising coupons or “Deals of the Day” are all highly targeted to  customers who can truly take advantage of your offerings.

As a variety of new crimes on Craigslist continue to be exposed every day, it is a welcome reprieve to build a web community that enables its members to participate in all types of activities free from fear and suspicion. If personal interaction is essential (as in the case of dating, in-home services, tutoring, care giving, etc.), SafeList even requires an additional level of verification that includes a criminal background check to further protect your interests.

With the limited rules on the wide open plains of the Internet, it is refreshing to see a company like SafeList taking responsibility and protecting its users through a very simple concept: verified identity.

What are your thoughts on online classified services? Do you use them, and if so, do you feel safe?

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  • Really a nice post to put light on the darker side of the classified sites.I think some secured mechanism must be employed while posting classified ads to avoid fraud and crimes.

    • Maureen Griffith

      Thank you. I beleive more measures should be taken as well to make classified sites safer for the consumer who may be unaware that the sites are not screened more thoroughly.