There is a fascinating case emerging from Oregon. Someone posted a couple of hoax ads on Craigslist that announced that Robert Salisbury had left the area and that all of his possessions were free for the taking, including a horse. Salisbury found people ransacking his home and tried to stop people who had their trucks filled with his belongings. They refused to give them back and in doing so could be (and should be) charged criminally and sued civilly. As for Craigslist, it is notable that this is not the first time this type of hoax has been perpetrated through its site.
The ads appeared on Saturday afternoon and Salisbury learned about it when a woman called about wanting to take his horse.
On his way home he stopped a truck loaded down with his work ladders, lawn mower and weed eater.
“I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back,” Salisbury said. “They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did.”
The driver sped away after rebuking Salisbury. On his way home he spotted other cars filled with his belongings.
Once home he was greeted by close to 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch.
The trespassers, armed with printouts of the ad, tried to brush him off. “They honestly thought that because it appeared on the Internet it was true,” Salisbury said. “It boggles the mind.”
Jacksonville police and Jackson County sheriff’s deputies arrived but by then several cars packed with Salisbury’s property had fled.
He turned some license plate numbers over to police.
Craigslist may be able to avoid liability under prior rulings and federal legislation protecting such sites, click here. Some novel legal theories like nuisance are possible, given the fact that this is not the first time that this hoax has occurred on Craigslist, click here and here.
However, even if Craigslist is immune from lawsuit, these obviously clueless or guileless people can be pursued. While they were waiving around the printouts from Craiglist, such papers would do little more than create a limited claim of good faith. However, when confronted by Salisbury, they clearly committed theft and conversion when they refused to yield to his demand or confirm the facts. This is akin to saying that someone on the street said that I could take your television and I am not about to hear anything different from you. Even the claim of good faith before the confrontation is shaky since it is a bizarre and unlikely event. There is a concept of willful blindness to such facts. There is also negligence, conversion, trespass, and trespass to chattel in tort that are available to Salisbury.
This is a case where a lawsuit would do some of these people good. I cannot imagine someone ransacking an individual’s home and then refusing to yield to his demand to stop and return the items under a claim of rightful possession. It is not simply the fact that it is a moronic legal claim, but it shows an entire absence of any moral or ethical values.
Then there is the poster of these ads. Such hoaxes are criminally and civilly actionable under a variety of charges. Craigslist will likely cooperate and the federal government often assists in such computer forensics if there have been efforts to conceal the identity of the poster.
For the full story, click here