New Sand Creek substation (copy)

Colorado Springs Police Department’s Sand Creek division.

Colorado Springs police want residents to know they don’t have to take chances when meeting people for online purchases.

At the Sand Creek police station, there’s a spot designated for making safe exchanges on transactions arranged on such online sites as Craigslist, eBay and Let Go.

“The reality is that ... we want to trust others, that they’re going to be honest.” said Scott Mathis, Sand Creek’s crime prevention officer. “But criminals rely on that.”

The alcove sits right across from the station’s front desk, which is manned 24/7, and multiple cameras record every movement. Even in the building’s parking lot, cameras are always recording.

With an increasing amount of online shopping, there’s no shortage of scams. A 2017 report from the Consumer Federation of America said that internet sales were the fastest-growing complaint that year.

“Anybody can post (online),” Mathis said. “There are no restrictions. The reality is, are criminals really going to take the time to use any kind of black-market programs? Probably not … They’re looking for the quick money.”

Not enough people know that police station lobbies are public places, or that they’re even allowed to complete a transaction inside them. There are no strings attached, said Mathis. Police don’t interfere with the exchange if they don’t need to, and don’t verify the objects being sold. If someone finds they’ve bought a stolen item, which happens often online, Mathis said, officers now have a jump on the case.

“You can get good deals on stuff, you just have to be aware of what’s going on,” Mathis said. “If they won’t send you pictures, won’t post pictures, are selling it for a friend, or try to do a wire transfer, those are gonna be your big red flags.”

People reduce their chances of crime by 99% if they buy locally, sell locally and can meet at a safe place, according to a statistic from Craigslist.

Mathis said there’s several ways to be safer when buying something online. Being aware, not going alone and being skeptical of seemingly “good deals” will help reduce the odds of getting robbed.

Even recording someone, whether through audio or video, will assist police with finding a suspect if a crime’s been committed. Colorado is a one-party state, which means only one person engaged in the conversation needs to be aware they’re being recorded in a public place for it to be considered legal.

But the most glaringly obvious sign that something’s off, he said, is when the person isn’t willing to meet at a police station.

“The fact is, if you’re not paying attention, and the hair on your arms isn’t standing up when something gets to you, you should be worried when that happens,” Mathis said.

The issue of online exchange crimes isn’t unique to Colorado Springs. Online crimes in general continue to climb as technology advances — outpacing what many police departments are able to keep up with. The 2017 Official Annual Cybercrime Report estimated that the delinquency will cost the county $6 trillion annually by 2021.

“If we can reduce us having to take those kinds of reports and go do other things, it helps everybody out,” Mathis said.

Multimedia Journalist

Liz is a multimedia journalist who joined the Gazette staff in 2019.

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