After the death of 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa, who was killed after responding to an offer of baby items for sale on Facebook, police and advocates are warning the public to be careful when buying or selling items on the internet.
Police around the country have issued warnings about person-to-person online sales, and as those sales have grown more frequent, they have offered tips on how to stay safe.
The biggest danger, according to advocacy groups, is that despite the presence of profile pictures and the like, you never truly know the person you are dealing with, or what their intent might be.
One person who has first-hand experience with online sales going wrong is Brittany Coello, who was the victim of a scam when she was trying to rent an apartment through an online service.
“I was looking for an apartment, and I had actually sent money through, and it ended up being a scam,” she said. “I feel heartbroken, I feel upset. There are a lot of scammers out there and they just want your money.”
Coello was a victim of a financial crime, but others, including Marlen Ochoa, were killed by the person they thought they were simply buying an item from, or selling an item to.
“There have been a lot of murders, not only in Chicago but all over the globe,” Steve Bernas of the Better Business Bureau said. “It’s a disturbing trend.”
The BBB does have plenty of tips to help keep you safe in the event you want to buy or sell an item online.
“You have to go to a safe zone. Never ever go anywhere but a public place,” Bernas said.
Numerous police departments around the country now offer so-called “safe zones” where you can conduct sales. Those areas often have security cameras and are well-lit so that residents can feel safe.
Most police stations in Chicago have ATM machines, meaning that residents looking to conduct a sale in a public place don’t have to carry much cash on them to complete the purchase.
Here is a list of all the police stations in Illinois and Indiana where residents can find "SafeTrade Stations:"
Bloomington, IL (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. No vehicles with trailers or vehicles over 8 feet, 6 inches tall)
Champaign (Lobby open 24 hours per day)
Chicago - Oak Forest
Chicago - Town Hall District (Lobby open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and sellers should let desk personnel know of sales)
Decatur (Lobby open 24 hours, but police recommend transactions take place during business hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
DeKalb (Sales should be made in front parking lot, on the east side. The area is under 24/7 surveillance)
East Chicago (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Jackson (Inform staff of any planned transaction)
Lake in the Hills
Madison County Sheriff's Department
Peoria (All sales are civil matters. Officers should not be called upon to intervene)
Randolph County Sheriff's Office (No firearms sales, and larger items should be exchanged in the parking lot)
St. Louis County Police Department
Springfield (Lobby open 24 hours a day)
Brownstown - Jackson County Jail (two reserved parking spaces are under 24-hour surveillance)
Hammond (Meet in the "safe-exchange space." The area is marked with a green sign in the east parking lot, and is under constant surveillance)
Indianapolis (E-commerce zones in all stations are under 24-hour surveillance)
LaPorte County Sheriff's Office (24-hour lobby)
Noblesville - Hamilton County Sheriff's Department (two reserved spots near the entrance are under 24-hour surveillance)
Portage (Central Avenue station is a SafeTrade area)
St. John (Lobby 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Sales can also be made in designated spots in the parking lot, which are under 24/7 surveillance)
Valparaiso (Two dedicated parking spaces, marked by painted pavement, are under 24/7 surveillance)
Whitestown (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking lot is also available 24/7)
The BBB also recommends that residents use their common sense to determine whether or not an offer is too good to be true. The group also suggests that, when possible, transactions should ideally be conducted through the mail or through delivery services to avoid face-to-face sales.