LAWRENCEVILLE -- The laptop buyer committed what police call a red flag in Craigslist bartering: He changed the proposed meeting point at the last second, from the high-visibility parking lot at Bass Pro Shops to a more secluded area beside Lifetime Fitness.
The seller, a 20-year-old Lawrenceville man, complied, eager to get $850 for his MacBook Air, as had been agreed upon online. Instead of cash, the supposed buyer pulled a large kitchen knife from his waistband and robbed the seller of the laptop, his iPhone and a 9 mm pistol that he spotted in the seller's car door.
The incident happened about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday near Discover Mills Mall, and the alleged crooks didn't get far.
A short distance away, police pulled over the alleged knife-wielding robber, Jhurik Forrester, of Suwanee, and an accomplice, Adam Wells, of Lawrenceville, and arrested them without incident. The victim's property was recovered in the get-away vehicle, a black Honda Accord, said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith.
Charged with armed robbery, Wells and Forrester remain jailed without bond.
Police call the incident the latest in a colorful array of local scams, brazen thefts and armed robberies initiated by use of Craigslist, an online classified ad site that claims more than 50 million users in the United States.
The seller in the recent robbery appeared to have started on the right foot by picking a public meeting place.
Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith advises Craigslist users to take it a step further and meet at police station parking lots for transactions.
Craigslist users "should be extremely cautious of last-minute changes to planned meeting places and conditions, no matter how convincing the reasons for the change are," Smith said. "Users should also remember the old saying, 'if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.'"
Technology can serve as a safety net, too. Police recommend using a smartphone or camera to document the other party's vehicle, tag number, or to snap a photo of the other person, Smith said.
Unscrupulousness born of Craigslist use in Gwinnett has been plentiful in recent years:
- In July, police said a Duluth man used Craigslist to lure and rob a woman at knife-point who assumed she was buying an iPad at an apartment complex in Buford.
- A Lawrenceville chop shop operator was charged with selling a Honda Civic piecemeal to unsuspecting buyers via Craigslist last May.
- Gwinnett police in December 2010 charged a Decatur man with setting up meeting points to test drive two sellers' motorcycles via Craigslist, then fleeing on the bikes.
- In July that year, a Snellville woman was accused of baiting Craigslist users into wiring more than $40,000 for horse trailers that never existed. She allegedly bilked victims as far flung as Illinois, Montana and Texas, suckering them into wiring as much as $9,200 into her checking account at once.
At the time, Fred Elsberry, Atlanta Better Business Bureau president, told the Daily Post those allegations fit the blueprint for most financial crimes involving Craigslist .
"One of the red flags we always tell people to look for is folks who want them to wire money, as opposed to paying in more traditional ways or with a credit card," Elsberry said. "That's like giving cash to someone you don't know."
Elsberry also warns Craigslist users to be wary of sellers who communicate only by e-mail, thereby masking their location. Similar scams in metro Atlanta have used phony real estate and used cars as bait, he said.
For all the news about crimes born on the site, Smith reminded users that, by and large, it's an honest marketplace.
"Craigslist is a great tool, and most of the people who use it are honest," Smith said. "But there is a lot of potential for abuse by criminals."