Hoping to offload a Microsoft Lumia cellphone, Hiyara Horth created a listing on Craigslist.
She got a bite, and agreed to meet the potential purchaser of the $125 phone at a gas station in Northwest Miami-Dade. But after waiting there with her boyfriend for several minutes, she called the potential buyer.
This time he told her to come to the Richmond Pines Apartments at 14700 Washington Blvd. There, she got more than she bargained for. The man, who was later arrested and charged with armed robbery, took the phone and flashed his gun.
She ran and left the phone behind.
Horth’s story is way too common in an era where online transactions are the norm, said Miami-Dade Police Detective. Daniel Ferrin.
“We are seeing this happen time and time again,” said Ferrin.
That’s why police stations across the country are encouraging sellers and buyers to meet at police stations to exchange goods. Locally, police departments, including Miami-Dade, North Miami, Miami Beach, Pinecrest and the Broward Sheriff’s Office, are spreading the word that police stations are the safest place to conduct an online sales transaction.
“If it sounds too be good to be true, it probably is,” said North Miami Cmdr. Scott Croye. “Why not go somewhere like a police station so it’s safer for everyone involved.”
Last month, the North Miami Police Department designated two parking spots in front of the station — directly in the view of surveillance cameras — as an exchange zone.
Over the last year, the police department responded to several crimes that began with the posting of something for sale, including hover boards, cellphones, sneakers and motorcycles.
In 2009, Robert Joseph Tombo was killed at North Miami’s Claude Pepper Park when he tried to sell his Rolex to two potential buyers. Two men were later arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
If someone does not agree to go to a police station, “it should definitely be a red flag,” Croye said. “At that point, you probably want to find someone else to deal with,” he said.
Miami Beach spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said the station has been advertising for months to complete online transactions in the station’s lobby at 1100 Washington Ave.
While there is no guarantee nothing will happen, he said it’s not likely someone would try to rob someone under the eye of a police officer.
“It’s just a safer way of doing it,” he said.
SafeTrade, an online resource created by the Advanced Interactive Media Group, LLC, a Florida company that publishes Classified Intelligence Report, helps people find safe places to exchange goods.
According to the site, more than 100 people have been killed after posting or responding to Craigslist posts.
E-mails to Craigslist seeking comment were not answered. The website, which is an online forum for selling or buying goods, does offer several safety tips, including how to avoid scams.
“The overwhelming majority of Craigslist users are trustworthy and well-meaning,” the site says in its safety tab. “With billions of human interactions, the incidence of violent crime related to Craigslist is extremely low.”
While Craigslist is popular for listing goods, police departments say the safe exchange zones are for anyone looking to buy or sell a product from any source.
The transactions are not monitored, so there’s no way to tell if people are actually taking advantage of the safe space.
Rodriguez, from Miami Beach, said he hopes that people do.
“You never know who is on the other side of the deal,” he said.
Safety tips: Online Exchanges
▪ Meet at a public place, including police stations. While some police stations including Miami-Dade, Miami Beach, North Miami and Pinecrest advertise that they are safe exchange zones, most departments are opened to these types of transactions.
▪ Always tell a friend or family member where you are going (an address) and who you are meeting.
▪ Take your charged cell phone with you, so you can call for help if needed.
▪ If possible, don’t go alone.
▪ If someone is coming to your house, have someone there with you.
Source: South Florida police departments