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Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Editorial: Sheriff’s Office has simple solution to Craigslist crime

Thanks to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, people looking to buy or sell used electronics or other goods through Craigslist and other online marketplaces now have a safe place to make the transaction.

The sheriff’s office is encouraging the public to use the parking lots at its four patrol district offices when meeting strangers who want to buy or sell products advertised online. The parking lots are lighted at night and under 24-hour video surveillance. An armed deputy is stationed in the adjoining office, and deputies in marked cars use the lots.

“We want you to come and feel safe here,” says Sgt. Steve Lewis.

It’s a practical solution to a crime problem that has grown along with the Internet. People are vulnerable when they arrive at pre-arranged meeting points with cash, electronics or other products attractive to thieves masquerading as honest buyers or sellers. Although the percent of Craigslist transactions that result in crimes is small, they do occur and can sometimes end violently or even fatally. A victim told the Tribune’s Elizabeth Behrman that he was robbed at gunpoint in a Sweetbay parking lot in Seffner when he arrived with his wife and daughter to sell his cellphone to someone who had responded to his online ad.

Lewis said the sheriff’s office noticed its parking lots are sometimes used by divorced parents with joint custody to exchange the children in a safe environment. The sheriff’s office decided to offer that safe environment for online transactions and created what it calls Operation Safe Sale.

Craigslist cautions its users to meet in public places, bring friends and take a cellphone when making a transaction with a stranger. But that hasn’t stopped some thieves from striking in public parking lots in broad daylight. A thief is unlikely to even agree to meet someone in a law enforcement agency’s parking lot, day or night.

Craigslist has facilitated billions of transactions during its existence, and the number will only increase. Sheriff David Gee’s team is responding to a present and future threat with a no-cost solution that prevents the crime before it occurs. That’s comforting for anyone trying to make or save a few bucks by using the Internet.

As is often the case, the simplest solutions are often the best.

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