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Craigslist changes rules to deter illicit sex ads

The site will require postings for erotic services to be paid for via credit card, making them easier to track.

November 07, 2008|Jessica Guynn | Guynn is a Times staff writer.

SAN FRANCISCO — Craigslist, the classifieds website, said Thursday that it was taking steps to prevent people from posting classified ads for prostitution and other illegal activities after reaching a pact with more than 40 states and U.S. territories.

"It's profoundly significant as a model to track down and crack down on illicit sex and other illegal activities," said Connecticut Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal, who has criticized the site for some of the ads it allows and spearheaded the deal. "Craigslist has been very cooperative about acknowledging the problem and addressing it."

The San Francisco company has been under increasing pressure to crack down on prostitutes using its site to troll for clients. Craigslist called the steps, which were taken in partnership with state law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "sweeping."

In March, Craigslist began requiring people advertising in its "erotic services" section to provide a valid phone number before the ad could appear on the site. Now people must also pay a small fee for each ad, and they must pay with a credit card. The proceeds will be donated to charities that combat child exploitation and human trafficking.

The measures will provide a "road map" for law enforcement to track down sex workers and others who violate the law on the Internet, Blumenthal said. Craigslist is also exploring new technology such as filters and blocking software, he added.

The changes will take place across all Craigslist sites in the U.S., which together attract about 40 million visitors a month.

Craigslist said the measures were devised in meetings between Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster, Blumenthal and representatives of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Buckmaster said criminal activity amounted to a very small portion of the ads posted on Craigslist. "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," he said.

Craigslist prohibits prostitution and other illegal activities. It has filed 14 lawsuits and taken legal action against numerous companies and individuals violating its terms of service, it said. It also uses a flagging system to remove inappropriate posts.

California was not among the states joining the agreement. "Californians are protected either way," said Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown. "We didn't see an inherent reason we needed to sign on."

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jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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