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November 28, 2014

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Lose something? Beware of Craigslist cons

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Steve Marcus

Earl Brown flies his DJI Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter drone at The Hills Park in Summerlin Thursday, July 24, 2014. Brown turned to Craigslist after losing the drone on a flight earlier in the month.

Lost Drone

Earl Brown flies his DJI Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter drone at The Hills Park in Summerlin Thursday, July 24, 2014.  Brown turned to Craigslist after losing the drone on a flight earlier in the month. Launch slideshow »

Earl Brown has some advice for civilian drone owners.

No. 1: Try not to lose your drone.

No. 2: If you fail at No. 1, beware of con artists.

Brown speaks from experience. And if drones continue to surge in popularity as they have — Forecast International expects about 1,000 unmanned air vehicles to be manufactured this year — his tale likely won’t be the last of its kind.

On July 1, Brown launched his drone from his Summerlin neighborhood for a routine spin over a golf course. The X-shaped, white plastic craft buzzed off into the sky and over rooftops until it disappeared.

Several minutes later, Brown lost connection with it. The real-time video feed on his cellphone stopped working.

He assumed the “fail safe” mode would kick in, bringing his $1,300 investment back to his front yard. But Brown, 26, forgot a key detail. He had launched the drone near his neighborhood pool.

So he turned to Craigslist’s lost and found section, posting among notices about a missing black cocker spaniel, a found white poodle and a lost baseball bat:

“Lost Quadcopter DJI Phantom 2 Vision Flying Drone.”

The next day, Brown’s phone rang. A trucker, who said he was en route to Illinois, told Brown he had bought the drone for $100 from teens at a Fabulous Freddy’s convenience store near Village Center Circle. Brown offered to pay the trucker $250 to mail it back, and he happily agreed.

“I was super stoked,” Brown said. “I bought it hook, line and sinker.”

But as soon as the trucker mentioned a MoneyGram, Brown grew suspicious. When he asked the trucker to read the drone’s serial number, the man hung up. He was trying to scam Brown after seeing the lost-drone notice on Craigslist.

Brown’s phone rang again five days later. It was a neighbor just down the block. The drone had landed intact in his yard.

The man and his wife told Brown they waited and waited, expecting the owner to show up at their door. They even held a piece of paper listing their phone number up to the drone’s camera. But no luck.

Brown and his wife had scoured the neighborhood, but they never crossed paths with the drone’s temporary caretakers. On a whim, the neighbor checked Craigslist and found Brown’s post.

Now Brown can get back to his hobby of taking aerial landscape photos with his drone, the adult equivalent of the remote-controlled helicopters he used to fly as a child.

“I think it’s the wave of the future,” he said of the flying machines. “As battery power gets better, how many things could be accomplished with a drone?”

Like, sending GPS coordinates of its location?

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