A Hillsborough man’s arrest last month on armed robbery charges highlighted the risk of buying or selling goods to a stranger through an electronic classifieds service.
The victims told police they arranged to meet a man at the Ashford Lakes Apartment complex to buy two iPhone 7s using the OfferUp purchasing app. They were robbed instead of $1,200 and a cell phone.
It’s a national trend, which AIM Group classified advertising consultants have been tracking. The AIM Group last reported 93 killings linked to just to Craigslist, along with thousands of rapes, robberies and other violent crimes, between 2009 and 2015.
Arranging to meet in a public place, such as a shopping center parking lot, is smart, experts say, but it doesn’t always work, especially when it involves cash or high-value items.
The problem has inspired a number of law enforcement agencies to offer their own Safe Transaction zones in the last few years. The SafeTrade stations website lists North Carolina agencies offering transaction zones, including Burlington, Durham and Greensboro.
The Carrboro Police Department is developing a program now, spokesman Capt. Chris Atack said, and hopes to have a sign and designated transaction areas identified in the next few weeks.
The public, for now, can use the parking lot in front of the Century Center on North Greensboro Street and the parking lot behind the station, between East Main Street and East Weaver Street, Atack said. The rule of thumb, he said, is to be careful.
“People can give a fake email address, people can have a fake account, people can do all sorts of things, but the biggest thing is don’t let down your guard because somebody’s got an app on their phone,” he said.
The Chapel Hill Police Department has had an informal program for a few years, spokesman Lt. Josh Mecimore said. The parking lot at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the lobby is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Parents often meet in the parking lot to transfer custody of their children, Mecimore noted.
But Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said in a recent email that police are asked regularly at community meetings about where to make safe transactions.
“We typically encourage folks to come inside for transactions, since this ensures that all parties are on camera during the transaction,” Blue said. “We also ask them to notify our front desk staff so that they are aware of what is happening.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office started a Transaction Safe Zone last year in its lobby and parking lot at 106 Margaret Lane in Hillsborough. The public also can make an appointment and have a deputy watch the sale or ask for a serial number check to make sure merchandise isn’t stolen.
They don’t track how many people use the service, Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes said, but community feedback shows it’s been popular.
“I think the benefit is it gives the buyer a safe place to conduct the transaction,” Sykes said, “because if everything’s not on the up and up or it’s a shady deal, the seller is not going to meet you at the Sheriff’s Office to conduct the transaction.”
SafeTrade Stations offers these tips for buying and selling online:
▪ Don’t make it obvious if you’re carrying a large amount of cash, either before or after the transaction
▪ Watch for checks worth more than the item’s price
▪ Call the bank or financial institution to verify that the check or money order you receive is valid
▪ If the item is large, meet first at the police station get a photocopy or photo of the other person’s identification and email it to a friend
▪ Make sure to have other people with you if the sale is at your home or another place
▪ Don’t let strangers be unaccompanied in your home, even to use the bathroom