What Is Craigslist Thinking?

I’ve been on Craiglist’s case before, as I think the man (Craig Newmark) and his largely free listing service are out of synch with a basic moral imperative about supporting honest businesses and limiting the impact of those that chose to be dishonest. So it was with some real sadness that I read that over in Illinois, the sheriff of the largest county in the state thinks Craigslist is a major hook-up service for prostitutes and their Johns.

If you’ve ever looked at Craigslist beyond the help wanted and for rent ads, you would see that a lot of suspicious services are for sale on the site. During the election campaign, an LA-based pornographer even used Craigslist to troll for a Sarah Palin look-alike to star in a XXX flick that was sure to be low on political gravitas. It’s impossible to imagine that Craig is unaware of this kind of use for his service.

More importantly, as I have written, Craigslist is home to an unending list of scammers, grifters, and other crooks who seem to use Craigslist largely with impunity. Even from Craig himself. If you try to post a for rent ad on the site, you’ll be reminded of all the fair housing regulations regarding discrimination, etc. etc, not once but multiple times. Not a word is said about breaking any of the other laws that are routinely broken on the site.

In fact, the only place where Craig seems to have set up a decent system of checks and balances is when you try to place an ad offering child care services. That class of ad is subject to a serious amount of verification and check-back, enough to impose more than a minor burden to the criminally inclined.

My own Craigslist hall of shame includes two friends ripped off trying to buy a car, one friend ripped off trying to buy a high-end electric guitar, and my own experience with a Nigerian scammer trying to rent my house (at a significant discount) out from under me. And that’s based on a relatively small number of total interactions, meaning the percentage of scams is a scandalously high.

I just don’t get why Craig would let his brand be scammed into the toilet like this. It doesn’t make sense. Unlike some web sites, he doesn’t stand to make a dime from the scammers. Nor does he make money from forcing merchants to pay for illegal purchases, the way that credit companies force online merchants who have accepted payment using stolen credit cards to pay the credit card company for the purchase, which effectively removes any incentive on the part of the credit card company to really crack down no stolen credit card use. No, Craig seems to be fiddling while Rome burns.

Too bad, I used to like Craigslist. Now I wish there was someone I could pay to protect me from exposure to that much criminality. Looks like the Cook County Sheriff feels the same way.