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Conduct in-person transactions in public spaces, RCMP urge

No plans to offer safe-exchange zone in Westlock
WES RCMP 2020 IMG_1608
Westlock RCMP Staff Sgt. Al Baird encourages people to conduct in-person transactions in public spaces when possible.

WESTLOCK – While Facebook buy/sell pages and websites like Kijiji, Letgo and Craigslist have made it easier to sell everything from old clothes to secondhand workout equipment and used vehicles, it can also be a haven for fraudsters and other criminals.

And while reports of crimes attributed to in-person transactions from those sites have been nearly non-existent locally, Westlock RCMP Staff Sgt. Al Baird said people buying and selling online should always conduct their business in a public space if possible. Online sales of goods/services is the most common type of online fraud in Edmonton and in 2019 the Edmonton Police Service received reports of scams that totaled just under $5.7 million.

“I mean you have to be careful when you’re doing those exchanges for sure. Locally I’d recommend the parking lot of McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s where there are a lot of people around all the time,” said Baird. “And of course when anything happens nowadays people tend to pull out their cellphone and record it, rather than help. But at least they will give us some evidence.

“Remember that many of these businesses also have cameras. And that’s something we’ve been advocating to not only deter crime, but if something else does happen there’s evidence. Cameras are cheap and easy to install.”

Other communities around the region have begun setting up safe-exchange zones as in October the Barrhead and Area Crime Coalition partnered with Barrhead Freson Bros. to set up one in the parking lot of the store.

"Things always have the potential to go sideways. There are a lot of scammers out there, so what we wanted to do is have a fairly safe public location," said Barrhead mayor and BARCC chair Dave McKenzie at the time. "It would also be a good spot for parents who have joint-custody to hand over their kids to the other parent. It is always good to have a well-populated, public place just in case something gets out of hand. Or better yet prevent things from getting out of hand because it is in the public eye."

Recently the Fort Saskatchewan RCMP, in conjunction with its protective service unit, noted in a release that it had set up a new exchange zone in front of the detachment and also encouraged its use for child custody exchanges, while the Edmonton Police Services is piloting a safe exchange zone at its Southwest Division station. Baird said there’s no plan to offer a similar service here as the detachment is closed to the public on weekends.

“For something like child custody matters … people could say meet here (the detachment) on a Saturday, but all our officers might be gone and we have no admin staff here Saturdays,” said Baird. “So it might look like a good place, but there’s nobody around. To me it would be better to do it where there’s lots of people, so if something does go wrong then hopefully people will see it and call us.”

George Blais

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