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Craigslist killing puts spotlight on safety in Internet buying and selling
Hall sheriff's office, Gainesville police urge vigilance
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Stay safe while selling or buying online

•Be vigilant at all times

•Meet at visible public locations

•Go with a friend or relative

•Inform friends or relatives of where and when the meeting will take place

•Always bring a cellphone

•Check with law enforcement or electronics retailers to make sure merchandise wasn’t stolen

Source: Gainesville Police Department, Hall County Sheriff’s Office

As the owner of a thrift store, Donna Gilder gets a lot of her inventory online.

Gilder is a member and administrator of several online auction and yard sale groups on Facebook, which she uses to locate furniture she can refinish and resell at The Treasures Within, her store on Clarks Bridge Road. The bulkiness of her purchases typically requires her to meet sellers at their homes, but she makes sure to never go alone.

“I’ll take my husband with me, and he does have a concealed weapons permit, just in case,” Gilder said. “You just never know.”

Craigslist, Facebook and a multitude of other websites have exploded in recent years as prime locations to advertise and sell everything from baby clothes to pets to cars.

Sellers don’t have to be licensed or vetted to join most of the groups or websites. And in a majority of cases, the only cost of placing the ad is however long it takes to create a Facebook post.

But after the killing of a Marietta couple who responded to a Craigslist ad for a vintage car made national headlines last week, online buyers and sellers are re-evaluating how they do business.

“Individuals should be vigilant at all times in knowing that they don’t necessarily know who they’re speaking with or what that individual’s motives are,” Gainesville Police Department spokesman Cpl. Kevin Holbrook said.

The Gainesville Police Department encourages individuals who buy and sell items on Craigslist or similar sites to use the parking lot or lobby of the police department as a meeting spot.

“Any time during normal business hours, we are more than willing to accommodate them to use (the lobby),” Holbrook said.

Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Nicole Bailes recommends those who wish to purchase items online follow a few basic steps, such as always meeting in a visible public location, going with a friend or relative, informing friends or relatives of where and when the meeting will take place, and always bringing a cellphone.

Though the Gainesville-Hall County area has seen little to no violent crime in connection with fraudulent online sales, Internet scams do still occur.

“What we see most often with online scams is individuals will request certain specific information before the transaction,” Holbrook said. “They will request credit card information or payment up front but they never receive the items or services which they are promised.”

Gilder has seen her fair share of schemes. Most often they involve individuals who sold something they didn’t really have.

“On the White/Hall County yard sale page, I actually removed a gentleman — he was taking other people’s photos and putting it up that he had them for sale, like motorcycles and some things,” Gilder said.

It’s also not uncommon that buyers who purchase technology through sites such as Craigslist or Facebook come to discover their new phone or tablet was stolen.

“That seems to happen a lot,” Gilder said.

When purchasing a phone, Gilder recommends buyers meet the seller at the appropriate electronics store so employees can confirm it wasn’t stolen.

There are other ways to make sure an individual isn’t purchasing stolen goods.

“Do your homework on big-item purchases,” Bailes recommends. “Contact the local law enforcement jurisdiction of where your seller is located and inquire on any recent thefts of the item you are looking to purchase.”

No matter how technology evolves, the lesson many find with online shopping is as old as time: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

“We would like to think that everyone we speak with is who they say they are, but unfortunately online, more times than none, that’s not the case,” Holbrook said.

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