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Washington State Attorney General Announces Co-Agreement: Craigslist sex ads reined in

Washington- Intending to help police shut down illegal sex-for-hire ads, Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna and his counterparts in 39 states announced an agreement Thursday with Craigslist.com in which the company adopted new policies.

Under the agreement, the free classified ad site will require users who post ads under “erotic services” to provide a working phone number and pay a fee using a valid credit card. The information will be provided to police if the company is served with a subpoena.

The site is used by more than 40 million people each month to shop, sell or rent apartments, services and other goods, according to the company. But police say it’s increasingly used as a medium for pimps and prostitutes to reach clients, and in some cases, to sell the services of women or girls who were forced into prostitution.

“I think these steps will effectively deter a good deal of the illegal activity in the personal services section of Craigslist,” McKenna said. “First of all, a lot of these individuals don’t want their real identities revealed. Plus, it provides a trail for law enforcement to follow if they decide to offer illegal services, anyway.”

Earlier this year, police and federal agents in Lynnwood arrested 15 people, including women and girls, who advertised escort services on Craigslist. One of two teenage girls arrested was an illegal immigrant, and police were investigating whether human trafficking played a role.

Two years ago, in one of the largest Craigslist busts in the region, Seattle detectives posted their own ads on the Web site and arrested about 100 male customers who responded to a downtown hotel room rented for the operation. In addition, detectives posed as customers, answered real ads on the site and arrested 14 prostitutes, including girls under 16.

“We’re pleased that Craigslist is taking proactive steps to police its own site. Time will tell whether or not its measures will have a net reduction in Internet-brokered sex crimes,” Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said.

McKenna likened the Craigs- list agreement to similar approaches taken with social networking sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com to guard against child predators luring children online. He said it could be used as a template for other online service providers.

“It’s appealing to their better nature and common sense in terms of protecting a brand. We didn’t threaten a lawsuit. They were very cooperative and collaborative,” he said of the Craigslist agreement.

Escort ads also appear in publications such as The Stranger and Seattle Weekly, but they’re paid for through transactions that are documented, and police can obtain warrants to review them, McKenna said.

As part of the agreement with the attorneys general, Craigslist will employ new technology to aid police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in finding missing children and potential victims of human trafficking.

The company also has agreed to sue 14 software and Internet companies whose products are used to help circumvent the site’s terms of use, Chief Executive Officer Jim Buckmaster said Thursday.

The company also is refining its protocols for blocking inappropriate content. The site provides a system for people to flag ads containing illegal content.

Craigslist has always warned users that ads involving illegal activity violate its terms of service. The company enables users to flag inappropriate or illegal ads for removal, although it has been criticized in the past for not taking more aggressive action.

“The incidence of crime on Craigslist is actually exceedingly low, considering the tens of millions of legitimate ads posted each month by well-intentioned users,” Buckmaster said in a statement.

“But no amount of criminal activity is acceptable, and as Craigslist has grown, we have become aware of instances where our free services were being misused to facilitate illegal activities.”

The amount of the new user fee was not specified. All proceeds from the fee will be donated to charity, McKenna said.

Other states that signed the agreement were Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam also joined.

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