Log onto a site like Craigslist, stroke a few keys and you're shopping. But so are thieves and robbers looking to take advantage of a potentially easy target: you.
"You have situations where someone's selling a product of some sort and the buyer is really a criminal looking to set up a situation where they can steal whatever the item is that's being sold at the time," explains Chief Dan Alexander of the Boca Raton Police Department.
That exact scenario happened to a U.S. marine in Pompano Beach three years ago, ambushed by gunmen as he tried to sell a gold chain.
It also happened to a man in Coral Springs last April when he arranged a deal on Craigslist, then met some men at an apartment complex to buy a cell phone. Instead of a phone they pulled guns. He fired back and killed one of them.
Coral Springs Police said in that case, the robbers never had a phone to call. They had placed a bogus ad on the web site, looking to rob a would-be buyer of his cash.
Boca Raton Police had three similar cases recently. So the chief came up with an idea: buying or selling to a stranger? Do it right here, in the lobby, under our noses.
"Unfortunately, we've had cases where someone's inside a restaurant, felt like they were in a public place and it was safe, but ultimately the item got snatched, taken away,” said Chief Alexander. “So we felt like we needed to take it up to another level. And that level is to suggest that you come into the police department to do your transactions. We want you to do your deal here as long as it's legal."
It could be described as simply common sense. Police department lobbies are public places, and once you walk inside, you're in the presence of law enforcement, surveillance cameras, your safety factor just went way up.
"It only takes a second to snatch some type of Macbook or an iPad or an iPod or something like that and run away, and these folks are very brazen these days. You have to take additional precautions," Chief Alexander said.
If the buyer or seller objects to meeting at the police department, police say that’s a warning sign and the deal is likely too good to be true.