It's a wildly popular virtual community where you can post a job, find a job, buy and sell goods and services; even find romance...but at what cost?
NewsChannel 7's Nicole Morten explains in her special report on what could be the newest potentially dangerous website. Is it Craigslist or victims list?
With nine billion page views a month, Craigslist has grown into one of the largest and most popular online classifieds community--serving 450 cities worldwide. With the ability to buy and sell just about anything imaginable, legal or illegal, users are pushing limits and in some cases, going over the edge.
If you've ever looked at Craigslist beyond the help wanted or for rent ads, you'll find this section.
It's filled with girls on the prowl for a buck, posting provocative images along with personal services guaranteeing a night that will not be forgotten. It's no wonder law enforcement officials across the nation are calling Craigslist one of the largest sources of prostitution in America.
Captain Ricky Ramie, of the Bay County Sheriff's Department, tells NewsChannel 7, "If there are 40 on there, I could tell you 39.9 of the 40 are there for prostitution."
And Bay County officials are taking notice.
"It's very dangerous," Captain Ramie explained.
While police have been dealing with street prostitution for years, prostitution on the internet is a whole new ball game.
Bay County Public Information Officer, Ruth Corley said, “Craigslist is another way to advertise, perhaps a new twist on an age-old profession on the internet."
But lately, that new twist taking a tragic turn.
"Look at what's happening in the national media with the Craigslist killer."
Earlier this month, Massachusetts authorities arrested Boston University medical student Philip Markoff, charging him with the murder of Julissa Brisman. Investigators say Brisman, who was from Manhattan, advertised massages on Craigslist as a front for sexual services.
Markoff allegedly arranged to meet her at a Boston hotel, then robbed and killed her.
Authorities have labeled Markoff the Craigslist killer, because he apparently arranged several similar meeting with other men and women through the website.
You might expect something like this to happen in a major city; but no city is immune...and Panama City is no exception.
Craigslist allows users to reach out to people in their hometown. That ability to target local customers makes it difficult for police to track prostitution.
"We can make a dent in it; we can slow it down,” said Captain Ramie. “But as long as Craigslist allows for this to be on their website, it makes it difficult for law enforcement, I know it does for us personally."
Still, investigators know it's going on. Last week sheriff's deputies arrested Jessica and Jolie Coleman a pair of 18-year-old Port St. Joe twins at a Callaway hotel.
Inside their room, authorities say they found 24-year-old Korian Durrell Thomas, who they describe as the girls alleged 'pimp', $10,000 cash in a trash can and their Craigslist ad on a laptop computer.
"These girls could have been murdered," said Ramie.
Ramie says two more were arrested on the very same charges just a few weeks ago. And they're not the only ones from Panama City. In fact, officials nationwide say most of the ads under erotic services are in fact selling sex for money.
Captain Ramie said, "They try to skirt around the edges of the law for prostitution."
CEO Jim Buckmaster said, "Craigslist does not condone or endorse illegal activity on its erotic services section."
Ramie says Buckmaster could help law enforcement's efforts.
"Craigslist could help us out by eliminating it period," said Ramie.
But Buckmaster says that's not happening anytime soon.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of ‘Craigslist or Victims list?’ As NewsChannel 7’s Nicole Morten interviewed a local woman who is lucky to be alive after one Craigslist close encounter.
Watch 'Craigslist or Victims List' Part 2.