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Thief steals student's laptop in Craigslist scam

By Zara Khan     10/21/13 7:00pm

Hopeful of receiving a good deal on software, one Rice University student instead received the shock of watching someone steal his laptop in broad daylight.

According to Rice University Police Department Sgt. Gary Spears, the student, who asked to remain anonymous, responded to a Craigslist advertisement offering installation of Microsoft Office 2011 software for only $40. Spears said the student arranged to meet the seller in the parking lot near the D. Kent and Linda C. Anderson and Robert L. and Jean T. Clarke Center at 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 7, during midterm recess.

"The scammer told the student that he needed to take the laptop to his car so he could install the software with a thumb drive," Spears said. "When the student gave the laptop over, the scammer got in his car and drove away."

Spears said that the student reported the theft to RUPD and that Police Detective Yolanda Avalos was assigned to the case. She began her investigation by searching through Craigslist, expecting to find the stolen laptop listed for sale. Unsurprisingly, the laptop appeared online the next day.

"You don't always catch the smart crooks, but you should certainly always catch the dumb crooks," Spears said. "The scammer used the same phone number for his 'I'm selling a laptop' ad as in his 'I'm selling software' ad."

According to Spears, RUPD arranged a meeting with the scammer the night of Oct. 8 at a Starbucks on Kirby Drive. At the meeting, RUPD arrested Jerome Anthony Goodson, 25, on the charge of misdemeanor theft.

"Goodson is not associated in any way with Rice," Spears said. "He is a Texas Southern University student. He looked legit: clean-cut, sharp, fits into the area well. He's had one traffic arrest, but this is his first real arrest."

After posting a $1,000 bond, Goodson was released Oct. 10 from the Harris County Jail. His next court date is Nov. 13.

Lovett College sophomore Daniel Lee said he was surprised Goodson was able to commit the crime on campus.

"It definitely makes me question the safety of Rice's campus," Lee said. "That said, I think RUPD did a superb job in nailing the robber."

While this has been the only Craigslist-related scam to occur at Rice in recent memory, RUPD still urges students to remain vigilant, Spears said.

"Just be careful," Spears said. "Don't believe everything you see on the Internet, and be skeptical when answering ads on Craigslist. When something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The software that this student was buying runs somewhere from $200 to $250, and the student was getting it for $40. That's a pretty unbelievable deal. This was a case of 'too good to be true.' "

Spears said RUPD wanted to also bring attention to the regularity of laptop thefts on campus. 

"Laptop theft is one of the popular crimes of opportunity that happen on college campuses," Spears said. "Students will leave laptops lying around or in an unlocked locker. They should, again, just be careful."

Lee said he plans on taking RUPD's advice more seriously in the future.

"There were many times when I left a personal belonging of mine lying around [Fondren Library] or in a classroom," Lee said. "Now that I look back, I have been really fortunate."

According to the RUPD website, students can register valuable items like bikes and laptops with RUPD, making it easier to later locate lost or stolen items. The form is available at rupd.rice.edu.

Rice Director of Procurement Brian Soika said there are resources on campus to assist students in purchasing hardware and software rather than finding it on Craigslist.

"Students may contact the IT Help Desk, located in the Mudd Building, for information on hardware or software purchases," Soika said. "The Help Desk staff will assist the students and/or refer them to the Office of Procurement for additional information."

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