Police go undercover to catch suspected scammers on Craigslist

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by Jeff McShan / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on February 8, 2011 at 1:33 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 8 at 1:33 PM

HOUSTON—Police say Craigslist has become a playground for criminals, so law enforcement agencies like HPD are going undercover to catch the crooks.

The latest investigation involves suspects selling counterfeit thumb drives. The suspects are claiming the thumb drives hold 256 gigabytes worth of memory.

"They were claiming they were holding 256 gigs of memory space, but in reality, once you get home and start loading data, documents, software and music … it’s only loading about four gigs," an undercover HPD officer who’s been investigating the scam said.

HPD said they set up a meeting with one of the suspects at a Midtown restaurant last Thursday.

The undercover officer hid a camera in his backpack.

On the footage, you can see the suspect placing the counterfeit thumb drives on the table.

The undercover officer told the suspect he wanted to buy 20 of the drives and wanted another 50 next week.

Police said minutes after the suspect and the officer worked out a deal, the suspect was arrested outside the restaurant.

HPD’s Major Offenders Division showed 11 News the video because they believe there are other victims out there, and they want those victims to call police.

"If you have purchased this type of flash drive from Kingston, just call us," the undercover officer said.

HPD said Kingston doesn’t even make a 256-gigabyte thumb drive.

As 11 News reported last week, other criminals are using Craigslist to meet up with – and then rob -- buyers and sellers.

Police say meeting a buyer or seller from Craigslist in a public place just isn’t enough to guarantee your safety.

Investigators said other recent scams in the Houston area have involved electronics, computers and software.

Houston resident Jay Smith said he bought Microsoft Office from someone on Craigslist.

"He showed me on the laptop that the software was there, and he said you can’t really install it without your computer plugged into your wall, because it will drain the battery. So I bought his story," Smith said.

When he got home, though, he said there was nothing on the disc.

Detectives said they’ll be keeping a close eye on Craigslist scams, especially when Houston hosts the Final Four in six weeks. They said people should use caution when purchasing tickets for that event, especially on Craigslist.

Police said anyone who thinks he or she might be a victim of the thumb drive scam should call 713-308-3100.

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