WANTED: Craigslist stories, safety tips for campus users

Alyssa Fairbanks

Credit: Varonin
Credit: Varonin

After the recent rash of “Craigslist Murders,” is it still safe or practical for Whitman students to use Craigslist?
 
On April 23, 2009, The New York Daily News reported that police had arrested Philip Markoff, the suspected “Craigslist Killer” of model Julissa Brisman who advertised her services online. The Boston University med-student shot Brisman and is suspected in a kidnapping and robbery attack a few days earlier of another woman advertising online. Markoff will be charged with first-degree murder by the Boston Municipal Court.

These attacks call into question the safety of using a service like Craigslist, but also fail to recognize the benefits of online advertising sites.  

According to their Web site, Craigslist consists of “Local classifieds and forums for 570 cities in 50 countries worldwide [it is] community moderated, and largely free.”

 On the page for Craigslist Tri-Cities (the nearest to Walla Walla), there are headings for community, personals, discussion forums, housing, jobs, gigs and services.

 There are also links to FAQ pages, information about avoiding scams and personal safety tips.  

Craigslist gets more than 20 billion page views per month, according to the Web site.  

Some of those page views are from Whitman students who use the online classified forum for various means. In a recent survey of 35 respondents, 65.2 percent of students reported using the site to search for jobs, followed by 39.1 percent who use it to search for housing. Additionally students use the site to buy and sell merchandise, to look for amusement, to advertise for rides and to look for relationships/sex.  

 Opinions of Craigslist are mixed on campus; some people have been moderately to very successful and others have had no success whatsoever.

 Craigslist provides a large database with a variety of offerings and very region-specific entries. The site is easy to navigate and kept up to date. It is also anonymous, offers quick responses and allows for easy connections to be made between people.

 Whitman students also report dangers of using Craigslist such as the prominence of scammers because the site is anonymous. Generally, according to the survey, students felt the dangers usually involved “scams and creepers” or sex-related advertisements. Some offered advice to “meet up to purchase/sell goods in a public place” and to not “give out all your personal information.”  

When asked to report successes or failures, several students had interesting stories. One student found a studio apartment, but that was   the student’s “only success.” Another student got a job two summers ago through Craigslist and it ended up being a “better job than … hoped for.”

Other students mysteriously report “phenomenal successes” and one said, “Oh, yeah. Let’s just say I’ve been able to meet a whole new side of Walla Walla using Craigslist.”

However, another student reports a near disaster when using Craigslist. The student was looking at a rental house found on the site and recounts this story.  

She was told to come any time to see the rental, so the student brought friends with her.  

“It was totally freaky,” she said. “No one was there, but the house was strewn with children’s toys, and there was a drawing of a girl in crayon on a wall. It was like something out of a Japanese horror film.”

She didn’t go into the dark basement, although her friends did. The whole experience was pretty scary, she said: “I’m pretty sure if I had gone alone I would have been the victim of a serial killer or something.”

While there are dangers, of the students that participated in the survey 91.7 percent said they would recommend Craigslist to other students. Reasons included the fact that it works, that it is easier than looking at classified ads in a newspaper and that it is a great option for searching for jobs. One student said that “many employers use it to advertise for open positions.” Other students said to use it as long as one has common sense or that they would recommend the site but not necessarily as a first choice.

Recent bad press may be giving sites like Craigslist a bad reputation; however, for Whitman users of Craigslist the benefits seem to outweigh the dangers. Using common sense and careful precautions Craigslist can be an extremely useful tool when searching for jobs, housing or buying/selling merchandise.