Thursday, June 19, 2008


Internet crime and the real world

We’ve heard a lot about pedophiles using the Internet to find their victims, and then arranging real-world meetings. They lure their victims by offering what the children want, promising fun, attention, friendship. They surround it all with intrigue, being a little sneaky behind one’s parents’ backs. They know how to make it appealing, even irresistible.

But it’s not just children who’re targeted by criminals who would cross the cyber/reality barrier. And to slightly geeky adults, what could be more appealing, even irresistible, than cheap iPhones?:

Trying to exploit the popularity of iPhones, four men used Craigslist to lure would-be buyers to Brooklyn and then robbed them at gunpoint, the police said on Thursday.


Lt. Garfield Brown, of the Police Department’s central robbery section in Brooklyn, said that the men used Craigslist to advertise a bulk sale of iPhones at a set price, arranged meetings with potential buyers, then robbed them of cash and other possessions.

Most of the meetings were set up in the evenings on various corners in the Flatbush area, he said.

“They were hoping that the victim would come with money to make the purchase,” he said.

The police said they have linked the suspects to at least 4 of 12 similar robberies between March 8 and June 4.

Lieutenant Brown said the men were arrested after the police noticed an advertisement on Craigslist that resembled one of the prior postings in which a buyer was lured to a meeting and then robbed. Officers posed as interested buyers and arrested the group. A loaded 9-millimeter gun was found in their car, Lieutenant Brown said.

They caught these guys using the same approach that they do for the pedophiles, only it was probably easier. One wonders about the stupidity of the criminals: I’d figure that once the police got three or four reports of the same crime, they’d be looking for it in just that way. “Hm,” they’d say, “This is the third report of a guy who answered a Craigslist ad for an iPhone in Brooklyn, and then got robbed. Let’s go have a look at Craigslist.”

So it’s a group of not-very-smart thieves, here, which tells us that the Internet is becoming a pretty routine place for launching crime — no longer a mechanism limited to clever criminals, no longer requiring any technological savoir-faire. And what got them caught was greed. If they’d pulled, say, three of these tricks and then disappeared, they might have gotten away with it. But not anticipating how easily they’d be caught if they persisted did them in.

But how does one protect oneself from this? Well, the victims fell into the greed trap too, to some extent (though the extent isn’t clear, since the article doesn’t tell us how cheap the iPhones were purported to be). The first line of defense is to be suspicious of a price that’s too low. Then if you still want to do it, bring someone with you, and meet in a public place at a reasonable hour. Look, anyone who tells you to come alone to a deserted area in the middle of the night is not selling you legitimate goods, hm?

Of course, you could do all that... and still get robbed. It’s a nasty world.

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