Calgary police say they're seeing a spike in thefts involving the online sale of used electronics — mostly iPhones, iPads and MacBooks — so they are urging the public to use extreme caution when engaging in these types of transactions.
Since January, the Calgary Police Service has received 75 reports of robberies during public buy-and-sell transactions with about a quarter of those escalating into a potentially violent offence.
"There's been a couple where there's been kicks or punches and then ultimately there's been mention of a knife being produced on some, not seen. But we have had some instances where bear spray has been deployed on the victims and they have sustained injury that way," said Det. Darcy Williams.
Calgary police say that prior to 2021, they would get sporadic reports of these types of thefts.
Williams says investigators believe the increase this year is a result of word spreading that this type of crime is profitable.
How to stay safe
Williams offers some suggestions on what to do prior to a sale in order to stay safe and to help police investigate down the road and recover items if possible.
He advises people to always meet in a public place and to take someone else along who could be a potential witness.
He also recommends sellers take screenshots of the buyer's online account or profile, as well as document all communication exchanges, including text messages or emails.
Some online classified sites also have the option to take a screenshot of the personalized link to the buyer's personal social media account.
Williams urges people to take note of as many details as possible, such as the type of car the buyer is driving during a meetup, because he says the use of masks is making it more difficult to identify offenders.
Trust your instincts
Williams says people should trust their instincts and heed any red flags such as a last-minute location change, or if the buyer is late.
"If something doesn't feel right, please don't go or don't stay there," said Williams.
"There are lots of other buyers out there that will likely buy the item, it just may not be that day."
Williams says most of the time the seller is the victim — but he says on occasion the buyer is getting ripped off. In the latter case, he suggests asking the seller to provide a serial number for the electronic device prior to a meetup.
Police encourage anyone who has been a victim of a theft or a robbery during a buy-and-sell transaction to report the incident to police so that evidence can be gathered and investigated in a timely manner.
Crimes can be reported by calling the police non-emergency number at 403-266-1234 or by calling 911 for a crime in progress.