Officials: There is risk in meeting strangers for sales. Here are some safety steps.

Franklin police offer a safe place for people to make internet sales transactions on Anderson Street between the police station and the Franklin Public Library. The area will be monitored with cameras to ensure safe internet transactions and is well lighted. ED RICHTER/STAFF
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Franklin police offer a safe place for people to make internet sales transactions on Anderson Street between the police station and the Franklin Public Library. The area will be monitored with cameras to ensure safe internet transactions and is well lighted. ED RICHTER/STAFF

John Ward understands potentially dangerous business deals are part of selling items on the internet.

When sellers exchange items for cash, and they’re dealing with strangers, there’s a possibility of “something going wrong,” said Ward, 58, a Franklin Twp. evangelist who supplements his income by “flipping furniture.”

So he takes precautions to reduce the risk.

“There is a broad line between convenience and safety,” he said. “It’s easily determined and should not be crossed. But sometimes convenience trumps common sense, and that’s not a good thing.”

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At least two area law enforcement agencies — the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and Franklin Police Department — have opened “safe zones” designated for business transactions for those buying and selling items from online sites such as Craigslist, OfferUp, eBay, letgo.com and Facebook.

Complete with security cameras, these “safe zones” are designed to protect consumers when they use the internet to buy from or sell to strangers.

“People who are going to rip you off don’t want to come to where the cops are,” Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said. “It don’t get no safer than meeting in the front lobby of a police department.”

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He said exchanging money where the transactions can be monitored by surveillance cameras is “the right thing to do.”

Exchanges can take place seven days a week between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. in the Butler County Jail lobby. The sheriff has designated marked parking spaces in the front lot with signs for exchanges for those not wanting to use the lobby.

In 2017, Franklin police started offering a safe place for people to make internet sales transactions. Police Chief Russ Whitman said the signs are up on Anderson Street between the police station and the Franklin Public Library and where people can complete their Internet purchases.

He approached library officials in early 2017, and its board approved the proposal to use library security cameras on the Anderson Street side of the building for the project. Whitman said the police department has updated its cameras.

Whitman has said the safety zone could also be used for child custody exchanges between parents.

If something about the other person or the item doesn’t seem right, police officials urge people to trust their instincts and back away from the seller or buyer. When making a transaction at a police department, Ward said it gives him “a sense of security” and it’s “the safest way to go.”

Ward buys and sells used furniture, and as a way to increase sales, he offers a delivery service. He said 50 percent of his sales include delivery. When making a delivery, he always goes during the day, never carries cash and tells his wife his destination and estimated time of arrival.

Susan Monnin, community outreach coordinator for the Butler County prosecutors office, sometimes buys and sells scrapbooking materials on the internet. She always meets during the day, in a well-lit public parking lot, and tells someone where she’s going.

She never meets at her home.

“You have to be cautious,” she said.

At least one phone app has taken steps to increase safety. OfferUp has similar features to Craigslist but works to make the transactions as safe as possible.

The app features a program called TruYou, which gives users verified “badges” if they upload a photo of themselves and a form of identification. When two users agree to make a transaction through this app, it brings up a list of safe spaces between their two locations.


Safe sales tips

Always meet in a public place if a designated safe space is not nearby.

Never go to another person’s house or allow them to come to yours.

Bring someone with you when going to meet a seller or potential buyer.

Ask to see the other party’s identification.

When meeting a potential buyer or a seller, write down his or her license plate information.

Be cautious of counterfeit money.

Red flags to watch out for

The price is significantly lower than market price.

The seller is unable to answer questions about the item.

They ask to send you a check through the mail.

They ask you to ship the item instead of meeting in person.

They are unwilling to meet at a safe location or a public place.

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