RUPD retrieves stolen laptop

“What a deal!” turned into “What a steal!” when a Rice student became the victim of a scam on Craigslist last week. Fortunately, the criminal investigations team at the Rice University Police Department (RUPD) gave this story a happy ending.

The student, whose name is being withheld by request, found Microsoft Office 2011 software on Craigslist for $40, including installation. That’s quite a savings from the list price of $219.99.

The student contacted the seller by phone and made arrangements to meet in the parking lot near Entrance 8. The seller, a 25-year-old man, asked to borrow the student’s cellphone to look up a product code and then handed the phone back. The seller reassured the student that it would take only a few minutes to install the software, and the seller took the student’s MacBook Pro to his car to get the thumb drive containing the software.

Much to the student’s dismay, the seller suddenly drove away with the laptop in a brown Toyota Corolla. The student was unable to get the license plate number, and calling the seller was not an option: The seller had deleted his phone number from the list of recently called numbers when he borrowed the student’s phone “to look up a product code.”

After the student reported the theft to RUPD, the criminal investigations team managed to get the seller’s deleted phone number from the phone company; then they began monitoring Craigslist for that phone number coupled with an ad for a MacBook Pro. By the next day, Rice Detective Yolanda Avalos had spotted what they were looking for. Posing as an interested buyer, she texted the seller and made arrangements to buy the laptop for $1,000 at a Starbucks.

While the seller was showing Avalos that the laptop worked, Rice Sgt. Gary Spears and Rice police officers Gary Evans and Anthony Mathews entered the store and arrested the man for theft. He confessed to the crime and was taken back to the police station for fingerprinting. He was charged with a Class A misdemeanor and taken to Harris County Jail.

Meanwhile, the laptop was returned to the student, who came to RUPD and correctly identified a picture of the thief in a lineup of six photos.

“Sometimes things don’t go smoothly, but this case went very smoothly,” said Spears, who heads the criminal investigations for RUPD. “We were definitely happy to get the stolen property back quickly, and the student was excited to get the computer back.”

Spears said this incident should serve as reminder to everyone to “be careful of what you see on the Internet.”

“And if you become the victim of a crime, contact RUPD at 713-348-6000 as soon as possible so we can get working on the case quickly,” he said.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.