Craigslist is an online classifieds website where anyone can post listings for jobs, items for sale or personal ads. It can be a convenient way for people to find jobs in their community or buy goods at cheap prices. However, Craigslist is also known as a place where people post fake listings to prank others.
Many pranksters think Craigslist is an anonymous website where their personal information can’t be found. However, if a prank involves a crime, the police can trace the listing back to you and you can face serious charges. The following are five examples of how people ended up facing legal consequences after placing a Craigslist advertisement
1.) Man pays over $74,000 in fines after posting contact information online.
In Seattle, Jason Fortuny conducted what he called a “social experiment” where he posted a personal ad as a woman seeking sex from random men. Over 150 men replied to Fortuny’s ad with their full names, phone numbers and email addresses. Fortuny then published this information online.
One anonymous victim sued Fortuny for copyright infringement, invasion of privacy through the publication of private facts and intrusion. The court entered a default judgment against Fortuny, requiring him to pay $74,252.56 in damages, attorney fees and costs.1
2.) Woman charged with felony identity theft after posing as ex-boyfriend.
In Wisconsin, Kari Heath, posing as her ex-boyfriend Joseph Strasburg, posted a personal ad on Craigslist seeking random men to call Strasburg at work for “dirty talk.” After receiving unwanted phone calls, Strasburg confronted Heath, who admitted to the prank via text message. Strasburg went to the police, who then charged Heath with one felony count of identity theft.2
Under California Penal Code Section 530.5, identity theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances of your case and past criminal history. A misdemeanor identity theft conviction is punishable by up to one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. A felony conviction is punishable by 16 months, two or three years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
3.) Man charged with multiple crimes after posting personal ad posing as neighbor.
Phillip James, a Connecticut man who had a history of bickering with his female neighbor, posted a personal ad on Craigslist posing as his neighbor seeking men to come over to her house so she could “please” them. The police were called and James was charged with reckless endangerment, harassment, criminal trespassing and risk of injury to a minor, as the neighbor had children living in her home.3
Under California Penal Code Section 273(a), child endangerment can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances of your case and past criminal history. A misdemeanor child endangerment conviction is punishable by up to one year in county jail. A felony conviction is punishable by two, four or six years in state prison.
Under California Penal Code Section 602, criminal trespassing is also a “wobbler” that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts of your case and past criminal history. A misdemeanor criminal trespassing conviction is punishable by up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. A felony conviction is punishable by 16 months, two, or three years in state prison.
4.) Teen fined for trying to sell a baby on Craigslist for $1,000.
In Wisconsin, a teenage boy was arrested by police after he was found trying to sell a newborn baby on Craigslist. The post turned out to be a prank, as there was no baby being sold.
5.) Wisconsin man banned from the internet for Craigslist prank.
Jason Willis posted a personal ad on Craigslist posing as his female neighbor asking strangers to show up at her house for sex. Several people showed up to the neighbor’s door, including one man who was wearing a coat and nothing underneath.
Willis was found guilty of misappropriating personal identifying information to harm a person’s reputation. He was sentenced to 30 months (two-and-a-half-years) of probation, where he was banned from using the Internet. The judge also stated that violating his probation would result in 18 months in prison.4
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1. [The Trolls Among Us, August 3, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03trolls-t.html?ex=1375329600&en=b5085d50ee5c65e5&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink]↩
2. [Woman Has Men Call Ex-Boyfriend at Work, April 17, 2013, http://www.complex.com/tech/2013/04/10-craigslist-pranks-that-went-wrong/kari-heath]↩
3. [The Soccer Mom Orgy, April 17, 2013, http://www.complex.com/tech/2013/04/10-craigslist-pranks-that-went-wrong/phillip-james]↩
4. [Wisconsin man “banned from the internet” after Craigslist prank, February 13, 2014, http://www.aol.com/article/2014/02/13/wisconsin-man-banned-from-internet-after-craigslist-prank/20829988/]↩