An increase in robberies tied to internet sales has prompted Durham Police to create safe spaces for the transactions.
The Durham Police Department will provide designated parking areas where people can meet to pick up goods purchased online through sites like Craigslist.
“A lot of the robberies we have seen occurred at night and often in isolated areas,” spokeswoman Kammie Michael said.
Ten internet sale robberies and several larcenies have been reported this year. Most involved transactions set up through Craigslist or through apps such as Letgo, police said.
Letgo is the “largest and fastest growing app to buy and sell locally,” according to its website. The app is free, and its website advises buyers and sellers to meet in busy public places.
Several victims of the robberies were from out of town. Creating safe areas at police headquarters and substations is meant to help those unfamiliar with Durham, Michael said.
The area includes two parking spaces in the upper parking area at Durham Police Headquarters at 505 West Chapel Hill St., which are under 24-hour video surveillance.
Internet transaction pickups can also turn deadly.
In June 2017, Zachary Finch, a 21-year-old college baseball player from Charlotte, was killed while trying to buy a cell phone through the Letgo app. Three people were charged with murder.
One hundred people had been killed responding to Craigslist ads as of 2016, according to the Advanced Interactive Media Group, a media watchdog group.
Durham police will also set up spaces at substations in District 2 (the shopping center at 5285 North Roxboro St.), District 3 (#8 Consultant Place) and District 4 (2945 S. Miami Blvd.). They also plan to designate spaces in the public parking area at the future Durham Police Headquarters on East Main Street.
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office created a program in 2015 where buyers or sellers can schedule an appointment with a deputy present in the Durham County Justice Center parking lot on South Roxboro Street.
The Police Department program will not have an officer present, but police can go back and watch the 24-hour recording if necessary.
Although Michael has not seen many people use the safe zones yet, she hopes more publicity will help encourage people to use them.
Many other Triangle police departments have already created such spaces.
Cary established a “Swap Spot” in 2016, consisting of two designated parking spaces behind the police department that are under 24-hour video surveillance.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has been inviting residents to make exchanges in its parking lot or lobby in Hillsborough since 2015, where deputies can watch the transaction.
Apex, Garner, Lee County, Morrisville, Southern Pines and Wake Forest all also offer safe places to complete Internet sales.
Durham police offers these tips:
- Be cautious and trust your instincts. If something does not feel right, leave.
- Meet in a public place.
- Meet during daylight hours.
- Tell a friend or a family member where you are going.
- Take a friend with you, if possible.
- Do not carry a lot of cash.
- Do not divulge personal information.
- Be wary of last-minute changes in the meeting location.
- Save any and all communications with the seller/buyer (text messages, emails, voicemails, etc.).