FORT WAYNE – On April 9, a woman and her boyfriend went to the Twin Oaks apartment complex to meet a man they thought was going to swap a phone for her Xbox 360, an arrangement they made on the free online classified site Craigslist.
Instead of pulling the cellphone out of his pocket, however, the man pulled out a pistol and demanded she give him everything – the Xbox, the controllers, a Coach purse, a pair of games and her brand-new Nokia 521 cellphone in its pink, black and white Otterbox case.
On April 12, a man reported to police he had been robbed of his black iPhone and $380 in cash at the Candlelite Apartment complex. He told police he had responded to a Craigslist ad offering a used Xbox for $380. As he greeted the man from whom he thought he was buying the gaming console, he was directed to an apartment door inside a fenced area. As they walked behind the fence, the victim was ordered to hand over his money and forced to sit on the ground.
These two crimes are among nine reported to police within the past five months, Prosecutor Karen Richards and Fort Wayne police said.
Friday, Richards and police Capt. Tom Bandor cautioned area residents who do business over the Internet to be careful when meeting up to complete the sales.
While Craigslist and similar sites offer places for safe and easy transactions, they also offer an opportunity for predators to create a robbery by appointment.
We’re worried about it, Richards said, adding that in some instances the victims had armed themselves with their own guns before going to complete the transaction but then had their weapons stolen as well.
Law enforcement officials say they are concerned not only that someone might be injured, but also that there are now stolen firearms in circulation on the streets.
It appears more than one person or group may be involved in the holdups, Bandor said.
Friday night, city police said they arrested a man in connection with the Craigslist robberies.
Tahj Thomas is charged with two counts of robbery and one count each of possession of a handgun with an obliterated serial number and carrying a handgun without a license, police said.
Thomas was found with a Jimenez Arms .22-caliber handgun, police said, and the handgun’s serial number had been removed.