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'Safe zone' for online sales

Meeting a stranger to complete an online deal can feel risky, even for a veteran police officer.

Sgt. Judy Bird knows first-hand about the "sketchy" feeling that can come with buying or selling items on platforms like Craigslist, Kijiji or Facebook.

"Even though you're not doing anything wrong, it feels weird. You're sitting in your car, waiting to meet somebody that you don't know and hoping that this transaction goes well," said Bird, spokeswoman for the Abbotsford Police Department in B.C.

Abbotsford police are trying to make online deals less risky by turning two parking stalls in front of the department's headquarters into a space where people can meet safely.

The area is under video surveillance and close to the station's front doors, in case safety issues arise during a deal.

"This provides one more safe place where people can meet others to make these transactions in a safer manner," Bird said. "Most offenders will not come to the police department."

Online forums advertising everything from smart phones to wedding decor are popular in the Fraser Valley and the vast majority of transactions are problem free, she added.

But classified ads have led to violence in the past in B.C.

In 2004, Marc Rozen was killed in his Vancouver apartment after he placed an ad in a local paper saying he wanted to sell an engagement ring appraised at $18,000.

Police said the 38-year-old was murdered for the jewellery.

A man identified by police as a gang member was convicted in 2013 of first-degree murder in Rozen's death.

Kijiji Canada spokesman Kent Sikstrom said a number of steps are taken to protect user safety on the sales platform, including technology that detects and removes potentially unsafe or illegal posts, and a customer service team that responds to listings flagged by users.

The company also encourages people to meet in public places like coffee shops to complete transactions, Sikstrom added.

"If you're going to somebody's house to pick up a couch, let's say, or something heavier that you couldn't transport to a coffee shop, we always recommend bringing a friend with you, making sure you inspect the quality of the items ... maybe even agreeing to meet at those buy and sell zones as well. These are all great options," he said.

Sikstrom added that anyone who experiences a crime should report it to police.

Police in Abbotsford are happy to provide a safe place for exchanges and will step in if a crime is committed, but officers can't help if an item isn't as advertised, Bird said.

People should not bring extra cash, and remember to never share personal information like social insurance numbers or banking details, she added.

"Though we are a very trusting community with good people, it's important for us to also look after our own safety," Bird said.



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