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'It looks like a tornado went through'

A Rogue Valley couple who lost their possessions after an advertisement appeared Saturday on Craigslist claimed their belongings were free for the taking aren't the first targets of deception on the Internet site.

A Tacoma, Wash., woman reported a similar incident to authorities last year. Laurie Raye told reporters she returned home to find everything removed, including light fixtures, the water heater and front door. She learned an ad had been posted on Craigslist urging people to come to her house and take what they want for free.

Jim Buckmaster, chief executive officer of Craigslist in San Francisco, said his company will cooperate with local law enforcement in trying to track down who posted the ad against Robert and Mary Salisbury of Jacksonville.

"Misuse of Craigslist for illegal purposes is absolutely unacceptable to us, and we look forward to assisting law enforcement in their efforts to bring the perpetrator to justice," Buckmaster wrote in an e-mail to the Mail Tribune.

"Craigslist is an extremely unwise choice for committing crimes, since criminals inevitably leave an electronic trail to themselves that law enforcement officers can follow."

The Salisburys lost ladders, tools and other possessions worth thousands of dollars after two Craigslist ads claimed the owner of a home in the 7900 block of Sterling Creek Road outside Jacksonville was forced to leave the area suddenly and that his belongings, including a horse, were free for the taking, said Jackson County sheriff's officials.

Robert Salisbury, an independent contractor, learned of the hoax when a woman who was interested in claiming his horse phoned him to verify whether the ads were legitimate. He arrived at his property to find dozens of people rifling through his house and barn and driving off with his possessions.

"They literally trashed the barn," he said. "It looks like a tornado went through."

Though he tried to stop people from taking his things, several people waved a printout of the Craigslist ad at him and said they had a right, he said.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department plans to subpoena Craigslist for information on the person who placed the ad about the Jacksonville property, officials said.

There have been other scams connected with the site, according to media reports.

Last week, a woman on the island of Maui in Hawaii responded to a house rental ad on Craigslist, she told a newspaper. She discovered the Internet scam when the "landlord" asked her to wire $800 to him in Nigeria. A man in Seattle was beaten and robbed last week when he showed up with $2,500 to purchase a wide-screen TV that had been advertised on Craigslist, a King County television station reported.

Salisbury said he believes the crime against him was random.

Jackson County sheriff's Detective Lt. Rich Fogarty said no arrests have been made but the investigation is ongoing.

"It doesn't sound like it's random to me," he said. The ad listed specific items, and Fogarty believes the person who placed it knew when the Salisburys would be away.

Fogarty doesn't fault the company, and said Craigslist has always worked well with law enforcement.

Salisbury said only a few of the items have been returned to the property, but he believes more people will come forward. Charges will be pressed against those who don't, he said.

"I have (vehicle) license numbers of people driving away," he said.

Items can be returned at any time with no questions asked. Possible charges connected to the case include theft, burglary, computer crime, theft by receiving and conspiracy to commit theft and burglary.

Fogarty said anyone getting any information off the Internet should do so with skepticism.

"Don't take everything for gospel truth on the Internet," he said. "If it looks suspicious, check into it further."

Anyone with information is asked to call sheriff's detectives at 774-6815.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.