The tragic deaths of a Cobb County couple in recent days revealed some lingering concerns surrounding websites like Craigslist and the safety of meeting with a person you know little about aside from conversations on the internet.
The details of the disappearance of a Marietta couple, Elrey “Bud” and June Runion, were not established as of press time Tuesday, but the circumstantial evidence suggests they may have been lured to their death as part of a fraudulent car purchase arranged through the website Craigslist.
The couple were missing for four days, having left their home to drive 200 miles to look at an antique car they were interested in buying. What are believed to be their bodies were found Monday in the couple’s vehicle in southeast Georgia.
Jay Towns, 28, turned himself in Monday to the Telfair Sheriff’s Office as the “only” current suspect in the couples’ death, Sheriff Chris Steverson said Monday.
Fayetteville Police Lietuenant Mike Whitlow deals primarily with fraud cases, most of which happen online these days. He has been giving out advice for years, oftentimes in public seminars, for how the average person can protect themselves.
It is rare that situations of this kind occur, but fraud is rampant on the internet.
“This is something near and dear to me because I see so much fraud on the internet,” Whitlow said Tuesday in response to the tragic story of the Runions.
“The internet is such an expansive, exciting place, especially for those of us who remember what it was like before the internet. It has brought worlds of information literally to our homes and now even our cell phones. But, while it has opened up worlds for us, it has also opened up worlds for criminals and brought them right into our homes,” Whitlow said.
Whitlow has used Craigslist himself in the past. He doesn’t believe everyone should run scared from their keyboards, but there are precautions that should be taken.
“Craigslist and websites like it are very useful locations to buy and sell things, but, like anything, must be used with education and with caution,” Whitlow said.
His tips are fairly simple and straightforward.
“I think the best rule of thumb for Craigslist, is to only deal locally with people who you can meet face to face. There are Craig’slists for every major city in America. But, why would you want to buy something from someone in Spokane who you will never see and never know?” Whitlow said.
If you do agree to meet someone to buy or sell an item, request to meet them in a very public place.
“The best location is at a police department or sheriff’s office. If the person you are
meeting is legitimate, they will have no issue meeting you there and it will put them at ease. If someone you are dealing with is scared to meet at a police department or sheriff’s office, you probably don’t want to buy or sell anything from or to them,” Whitlow said.
When it comes time to exchange a check or cash, Whitlow recommends doing so at a bank.
“If you are accepting a check from someone, meet at their bank, or the bank on which the check is drawn.You can confirm the account and, if necessary and if
you want to, cash the check there. If you are exchanging cash, go to your bank and they can check the bills’ authenticity there. It would also be wise, while you are there, to go ahead and deposit the cash, so you are not carrying it on you,” Whitlow said.
The last tip is more to avoid getting ripped off.
“If you are purchasing something you are not that familiar with, like a car or computer equipment, take along someone who is familiar with it to look for flaws or defects. If you don’t have a friend or acquaintance, take it to an expert or have the seller meet you at the expert’s location. For instance a mechanics shop. Again, if someone is legitimate and wants to sell something to you, they should have no problem with this,” Whitlow said.
The list of frauds Whitlow has seen occur just in Fayetteville is lengthy.
“We have seen, right here in Fayetteville, every type of crime associated with Craigslist: frauds perpetrated from half way around the world; assaults which occur after a sale when they know you have a lot of cash; counterfeit money being used for purchases and damaged or in some cases no merchandise, only an empty box,” Whitlow said. “What happened to the Runions was tragic beyond words, but, hopefully, it will draw attention to this issue. People need to be savvy when dealing with Craigslist. It doesn’t mean being paranoid or afraid, it means being prepared and, most of all, safe.”