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SPECIAL REPORT: Trumping Prostitution on the Popular Craigslist Site

Palm Springs- It has long been a place where you can post messages, buy concert tickets, or even trade services.

But the popular site Craigslist is making some changes because it’s also become the place to go for people looking to buy or sell sex online.

Since 2007, News Channel 3 has reporting on the shady side of Craigslist. Not much has changed over the past year.

Prostitutes from all over, professional and amateur alike, post their ads on the popular website to set up “dates” in Palm Springs.

We used the website to meet a guy looking for a “sugar daddy” and, who within two minutes of meeting me, said “You wanna go for a drive or something?”

The personal listings offer a seemingly never-ending list of people offering sex. Some say they need money for a dentist and are willing to work it off.

Others say they’re between jobs or trying to pay for college.

When we met up with our subject in Palm Springs, using hidden cameras, he made it clear he wasn’t interested in work as he said, “I’ve worked since I was 16 years old and work is just not for me– not enough money.”

Last summer, a woman arrested for prostitution told us she used Craigslist because it’s so easy to connect with customers. She said, “It’s easier. Just take a phone call and somebody comes to you or you to them.”

The police also know about Craigslist. In fact, they used it to set up dates during a sting operation we observed. But they haven’t been able to stop the many illegal activities being conducted on its numerous bulletin boards.

Greg Fellows heads a regional high tech crime unit called the “Catch Team.” It investigates computer-related crimes in Riverside, Imperial, and San Diego counties. He’s happy to see Craigslist finally cracking down on its illegal ad postings.

New rules now require people posting ads for “erotic services” to pay a small fee with a valid credit card and provide a working phone number.

Fellows says he thinks that will help legitimize the ads.

The new requirements are part of an agreement with attorney generals in 40 states. California’s Attorney General was not involved in the deal, but an aid tells News Channel 3 they do support it.

Fellows says he thinks the requirement will be a way for law enforcement to accumulate more evidence, to find out who posted the ad, and more about the credit card that was posted.

Once exposed, our “willing and able” subject didn’t want to talk to us on camera about why he does what he does, saying only it would be a waste of his time.

But Craigslist says it’s now cooperating with law enforcement subpoenas and has even sued other software and internet companies who’ve helped people circumvent the site’s new security measures.

Police are optimistic this will help, but they say the only way to stop the abuse completely would be for Craigslist to stop allowing “erotic services” ads.

That’s not likely to happen.

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