I-Team: Online deals gone bad

March 3, 2014 (CHICAGO)

There are several options to buy and sell online, but Craigslist has become a go-to spot to find local deals, without getting items shipped.

Chicago Police and the Cook County Sheriff's Office say they're seeing an increase in reports of stolen goods on the site and others. The I-Team shows you how Craigslist helped one consumer, while another lost thousands.

This was the Craigslist ad for a 2001 Honda CR-V that enticed 19-year-old Vanessa brown. She paid the seller $2,600 in cash after looking at what she thought was the title with a matching VIN number.

"And I gave him the money and we looked over a couple more things and we left," said Brown.

But five minutes after this Blue Island mother left with her first car, a cop pulled her over because the car did not yet have plates.

"And they came back and said, 'Can I have you step out of the vehicle, you are being arrested for driving a stolen vehicle' and my heart dropped and I said, 'What do you mean a stolen vehicle?'" said Brown.

Brown says she was cuffed and hauled off to a police station on 71st and Cottage Grove where she sat for four hours. She was released without being charged, but police took the stolen car and what ended up being a fake title.

Cook County Sheriff's Office Commander Michael Antone runs a special ops unit that monitors Craigslist. He says it's common for investigators to get reports about questionable goods on Craigslist, eBay and the classifieds site, Backpage.

"You don't know what you are getting. It could be a used item, it can be a counterfeit item, we have seen a lot of that, it could be a stolen item. People don't know. You are buying from a picture, you could download a picture form the internet," said Cmdr. Antone.

Antone and Chicago police both say if you're going to buy used items online, you should ask the seller for a serial number, or for a car, a VIN number. You can then ask police if the item has been reported stolen. On eBay, you can look at a seller's profile and history of sales. You can also report suspicious activity to individual websites.

Karla Shaw turned to Craigslist for help when her South Side condo was burglarized in November.

"And when I went to the computer this is what I saw with my serial number and I said, 'Oh my god that is my computer!'" said Shaw.

A CPD detective got her iMac back for her. The Craigslist seller, Shehzad Nonani says he bought the computer from a street corner on the city's South Side. He wasn't charged.

"I'm out of the $1,300 I paid," said Nonani.

The I-Team tracked him down working at this gas station on the city's South Side.

ABC7's Jason Knowles: "Did you have any reason to believe it was stolen?"
Nonai: "No, like I said the only reason I would get, if I turned it on, it would come up to a password, some sort of Apple ID saying you need a password."

He says the computer log in didn't require a password and it wasn't locked, so he thought it was legit. And that the people who sold it to him may have wiped Shaw's information. Luckily for Shaw, she saved the iMac box.

And there's another way to safely buy used items online. One detective told me you can conduct the transaction in a police department lobby. If a seller has a stolen item, they probably won't want to go to a police department.

Eyewitness News reached out to Craigslist, based in San Francisco, several times, in the last few weeks. No one got back to us.

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