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Florida police working to stop several Craigslist crimes

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March 23, 2015

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The rapidly increasing number of violent crimes and hundreds of attacks related to online classified sites such as Craigslist has some U.S. states such as Florida seeking several ways to make these transactions a lot safer.

Last week, a pregnant woman was attacked after responding to a Craigslist ad. 26-year old Michelle Wilkins, who police say was stabbed and had her fetus ripped from her abdomen. The baby later died in hospital.

Wilkins, who was seven months pregnant, remains in the hospital but police said Thursday she is expected to recover.

Then on March 20, a man was also attacked while responding to a Craigslist ad. Karl Trenker is currently recovering from several gunshot wounds he received during a transaction for a Craigslist purchase that day.

Everyday, millions of people buy and sell items on the Internet. Thousands of these transactions are between private citizens and, in some cases, they can become dangerous.

Karl Trenker spent nearly 30 years in the Marines, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and never took a bullet until he tried to sell a gold necklace on Craigslist. He was shot four times in Deerfield Beach, Florida. The bullets hit him in the back, shoulder, abdomen and pelvis.

Trenker lived to tell about it, but others weren't so lucky. Since 2009, at least 48 people have been killed in Craigslist-related robberies.

They include an elderly couple in Georgia buying a car. A father in Washington state selling a ring; and a Florida college student over a $100 iPhone.

Miami-Dade county commissioner Sally Heyman said it's a shame that this became a crime trend. She believes safe havens are needed to protect Internet buyers and sellers.

"Go to a public place that's likely to have several cameras and lots of security people," said Heyman. A police station is one option.

The Boca Raton Police Department has started advertising itself as a transaction site, and Police Chief Dan Alexander said he's already seen incidents drop by a large factor.

"Just within the month of June 2014 we had four Craigslist-related crimes," said Alexander. "We launched this campaign and since that time we haven't had any subsequent events."

His campaign includes YouTube videos to alert the public about the many dangers and to tell them that police stations are safer places for such transactions.

"If their intent is bad they're going to say no-- not interested," said Heyman. "It's not going to present that opportunity."

Florida lawmakers are hoping to establish Craigslist safe haven programs in every county in the state. The sheriff's office in Jacksonville is set to be next to roll out the program.

Source: Miami-Dade Police Dept.

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