Orange County Sheriff offers tips for conducting online transactions safely
Online services such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace have become popular platforms on which to buy and sell merchandise. Such services provide a buyer the chance to search for a specific need, and a seller can market specific items to a large audience without having to take out an ad in a print newspaper or hold a yard sale.
Despite the convenience, these platforms can pose safety risks to both parties, as evidenced by a recent case involving a Raleigh man who met with someone interested in buying his vehicle. The two went on a test drive together; the seller was later reported missing and found dead several days later in Virginia. Authorities charged the potential buyer with murder and other charges, including larceny of a motor vehicle.
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood established a Safe Transaction Zone (STZ) at the Sheriff’s Office in 2015, shortly after he took office in December 2014.
“We invited the public to take advantage of the office lobby or parking lot as a meeting place for this type of transaction," said Blackwood. "It is a very popular service. If requested, a deputy will be available to observe the transfer, thereby increasing both the buyer and seller's sense of security. Additionally, at the request of either party, we will check serial numbers to determine whether any item appears in the State of North Carolina or national databases of stolen property.”
Sergeant Daniel Roberson of the Community Service Division at the Sheriff’s Office offers other suggestions for safely meeting to finalize transactions originating online
“Avoid meeting the other party at a private residence," he said. "If our office is not convenient, meet in a public place, particularly one with video surveillance. Keep in mind, one of the benefits of our STZ, or another public, monitored space, is the deterrent value. Someone with bad intentions is not going to be interested in meeting in such a space. Consider that type of reluctance to be a big, red flag.”
Private vehicle sales pose additional challenges because of the test drive component of the transaction. Sergeant London Ivey, who also works in the Community Services Division, offers the following advice: “No one should go alone to these transactions and certainly no one should get in a vehicle with a stranger. If a seller chooses to let a potential buyer take the vehicle on a test drive, the seller can take a picture of the person's driver's license, and a separate picture of the person. If the buyer balks, that person may not have honest intentions.”
Other safety tips include:
Be very careful if the transaction involves a large amount of cash.
Watch for convoluted financial arrangements. If the transaction is anything complicated, layered, or involves a hard luck story, walk away from the deal.
If possible, call the bank or financial institution to verify the check or money order is valid.
The STZ is at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 106 E. Margaret Lane in Hillsborough, NC. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (919) 245 2900.
For residents in the southern part of the county, the Chapel Hill and Carrboro police departments also allow and encourage people to meet in their parking lot (preferably during daylight hours) for such transactions.