Pawtucket police open ‘safe zone’ to keep Internet buyers and sellers safe

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Making transactions online can be quick and easy, but if you have to meet a stranger in person, the deal can also be dangerous.

On Monday, a Missouri college student was murdered by a stranger he met trying to sell his sports car on the online classifieds website Craigslist.

Now, Pawtucket police have set up the state’s first “online purchase safe zone,” asking Internet buyers and sellers to consider making their transactions in front of the police.

Officials said the idea is that there is no place safer to do your business than at a police station.

“The concept kind of came about, ‘let’s create this zone where people can go and interact, conduct their personal business in a safe and secure environment,'” said Pawtucket Police Det. Sgt. Paul Brandley.

Brandley said people are free to use the department’s video-monitored waiting area, courtyard and parking lot at police headquarters, located at 121 Roosevelt Avenue, to make purchases with people you may only know through keystrokes.

“What we would ask is just simply walk into the police station and approach the personnel behind the glass and just say that you’re there to take advantage of the Internet safe zone, transaction zone, and that’s it,” said Brandley. “There will be no hassle, you won’t be questioned, they’ll just know that someone is conducting business and they’ll keep an eye for their safety.”

Sgt. Brandley told us the department has not received any recent reports of crimes related to online classified websites such as Craigslist. However, Brandley said Pawtucket police are concerned about a growing national trend.

According to a study from non-profit group StreetLaw, at least 48 people have been killed in Craigslist crimes since 2009.

Craigslist recently updated its “Personal Safety” section, telling users to consider making high-value exchanges at a local police station, insisting buyers and sellers to meet in a public place and suggesting deal makers tell friends and family where they are meeting to make the transaction.

Beside increasing safety for buyers and sellers, Sgt. Brandley said safe zones may also cut down on the sale of stolen goods.

“Certainly if I ask someone if I want to purchase something form someone and I’ve never met them, and I ask them to meet me at a police station and they don’t want to meet there, then that’s a good sign of buyer beware,” he said.

The safe zone service isn’t expected to cost the department any extra manpower either.

“We’re not verifying information or anything of that nature,” Brandley said. “What we’re just simply providing is a supervised area where people who’ve never met before other than virtually, can transact.”

Lincoln Police Chief Brian Sullivan, also the president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, tells us the concept of safe zones was presented at a meeting to police chiefs throughout the state.

Another community, Tiverton, plans to set up its own safe zone in the near future.

Anyone with questions about the service can contact the Pawtucket Police Department at (401) 727-9100.

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