Answer Man

Craigslist may not be as dangerous as you think

Q. Has anyone been keeping tabs on the crimes connected to craigslist’s online classified ads? It seems every couple of months I read of some poor soul being attacked, robbed or murdered over something to do with craigslist. What gives?

— S.C., of Belleville

A. At first glance, the 2011 report seemed frightening enough to scare any sensible person from using craigslist ever again.

Issued by the AIM Group media consulting firm, the study found that in 2010 craigslist transactions were linked to 330 crimes, including 12 murders. Compiled from local media reports, the study called craigslist “a cesspool of crime” as it cited not only killings but also 105 robberies, rapes and assaults along with such nonviolent crimes as rental rip-offs. In the International Business Times on Feb. 24, 2011, Peter Zollman, the founding principal of AIM, concluded that craigslist had become almost synonymous with crime and that the anonymity on the site allows criminals across the country to rob, assault and kill innocent victims who are merely trying to make a few extra bucks by selling a used car or renting an apartment.

With such reports continuing to crop up (although I know of no national database), I can see why you are shocked and ready to zap craigslist from your list of bookmarks if you haven’t done so already. But as cartoon Sheriff Quick Draw McGraw might have said, “Hold on thar, Baba Looey.” Is this popular and convenient website service really as dangerous as this study and recent headlines suggest? If you look at all the numbers rather than focusing on a select few, you might come to the conclusion that this may be blown out of proportion.

No, I’m not trying to trivialize the assaults and other serious crimes that can be attributed to craigslist transactions. Yet people are robbed and shot while buying milk and gas at convenience stores. Do I stop going there? That would be silly. If you use the proper precautions, craigslist can be just as safe if not safer.

Here are other numbers you might find interesting: In 2010 — the same year the AIM report looked at — there were a reported 573 million craigslist postings in North America. So if there were 330 serious crimes, your chances of being victimized would have been substantially less than 1 in a million for any given post. By comparison, you have a far greater chance of dying in a car crash during any given calendar year — somewhere between a 1 in 4,000 and 1 in 8,000. Are you going to give up driving?

And it’s not just me arguing for a little statistical sanity. The AIM study cited a rash of robberies in Oakland, Calif., that was traced to a gang of men advertising luxury cars for sale on craigslist and then robbing and assaulting those who responded. Yet James Temple in the San Francisco Chronicle argued that, in terms of pure statistics, using craigslist was roughly 11,000 times safer than simply living in Oakland, which saw 116 murders, 4,488 burglaries and 4,129 felony assaults during one recent year.

On a local level, what makes craigslist any more potentially dangerous than an old-fashioned classified ad? If I were of that mindset, couldn’t I respond to an unsuspecting seller’s newspaper ad, go to his home and rob him or steal a car? Just something to think about. So if you take the recommended precautions as you should even with a newspaper classified — meeting buyers or sellers in well-trafficked public places, etc. — you should be able to give those alarm bells a rest.

Q. I recently read a long article in the BND that said actress Isabella Rossellini is “as busy as a bee.” I never read anything about sister Ingrid. Any news?

— J.C.R., of Glen Carbon

A. Funny how different twin sisters can be. While Isabella has enjoyed her years as a model and movie star, Ingrid, who is older by 34 minutes, was reportedly very shy as a child and continues to shun the spotlight.

Instead of Hollywood, Ingrid found her home in academia, earning a doctorate in Italian literature from Columbia University as she concentrated on the works of Petrarch and Dante. She taught literature at Columbia, moved on to positions at Princeton and Harvard and at last report is an adjunct professor at New York University.

After a short marriage ended in divorce in the ’80s, she wed Richard Aborn in 1990 and assisted the Democrat in his 2009 run for Manhattan district attorney. They have two children.

But she hasn’t turned her back on her family’s film roots entirely. She often has taught classes on the work of her famous father, Roberto Rossellini. And when Isabella wrote a 17-minute avant-garde film that portrayed their father as a naked stomach in 2006, Ingrid called it “inappropriate” and “offensive.” Isabella said that’s how she remembered him — soft, round and cuddly — but Sis didn’t agree.

“I said to Isabella that it is disrespectful to father and I do not think he would have liked it,” Ingrid said at the time. “I am hurt by that.”

Whatever rift that occurred apparently soon was patched. By 2009, the twins, who will turn 63 on June 18, gathered to share cocktails to celebrate the debut of sister Pia Lindstrom’s show on Sirius Radio.

Today’s trivia

Who received nearly a million votes for president as he sat in jail?

Answer to Tuesday’s trivia: In the early 1700s, Anglo-Irish author Jonathan Swift met and tutored a woman named Esther Vanhomrigh. He later wrote an autobiographical poem about their relationship in which the name Vanessa shows up for the first time — “Van” from the woman’s last name and “essa” as a pet name for Esther. Published in 1726, the poem was titled “Cadenus and Vanessa.”

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or call 618-239-2465.