FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 15, 2019) - Over the past few years, we've seen swift growth in the number of websites and smartphone apps that allow users to buy or sell items online. Soldiers may be enticed by these virtual marketplaces for their ability to provide a means to quickly exchange goods or rid themselves of excess property prior to a change of duty station move. While many of these transactions will live up to expectations, one should carefully evaluate the risk before running in blind with hopes of making some fast money or scoring a deal that seems too good to be true.

Just as services such as Craigslist, eBay, Poshmark, Letgo and Facebook Marketplace have grown, so too has crime associated their use. Police departments nationwide are increasingly having to investigate thefts, robberies and even murders related to potential buyers and sellers meeting to exchange money and goods. Fortunately, these services can be used safely by following these risk management-based tips.

One of the most common mistakes users of these services make is divulging too much personal information, which can lead to identity theft. That risk increases when they make payments using a check or credit card. As the saying goes, "Cash is king." Paying with cash allows one to complete a transaction without giving away too much personal information, like a home or work address. It's a good idea to not to give a full name and limit communication with strangers only through the service's app or website when possible. However, this should not deter one from attempting to gather intel, such as the other party's physical description or full name if possible, prior to meeting for the exchange. Not only will this make both buyer and seller a hard target for this transaction, it will also decrease the chance of them becoming victims of future crimes.

Next, it's critical to pick a safe meeting location. Obviously, the greatest risk of the transaction will be getting together to exchange money for the item being bought or sold. Buyers and sellers must avoid conducting this trade at home or work. No one wants strangers returning later because they have buyer's remorse. Even worse, they may want to commit a crime after getting a view of the residence. The best location to meet would be a police station. In some cities, law enforcement agencies have even established designated areas for buyers and sellers to make these transactions safely. Even the boldest criminal would be unlikely to attempt a crime in front of a police station. If there isn't a police station or other law enforcement agency located within a reasonable distance, find a public location that has plenty of people who could witness the transaction. Also look for a site that has surveillance cameras.

Once a transaction location has been set, buyers and sellers should not forget one of the most important risk management controls: Bringing someone with them! Don't forget to let someone who isn't going know where the transaction will take place and when to expect you back. Not only will this deter those with criminal intentions, it also decreases the chance someone will try to intimidate you into renegotiating the deal. In addition, keep in mind that there's no need to wear expensive jewelry or clothing to the meeting. Both parties should have already agreed upon the deal, and there's no need to try to impress anyone.

The threat of crimes associated with these types of services is real, and police across the country are actively trying to create ways to prevent and investigate them. There will always be an underlying risk whenever making a transaction with a stranger, but applying these safety measures will increase the probability of getting a happy ending.

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