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Chamber, city police establish safe zone for e-commerce

Two parking spaces have been designated as an e-commerce safe zone.

As more and more local and area residents conduct transactions through Atmore Yard Sale, Facebook, Craigslist, LetGo and Etsy, the need has grown for a safe location at which the transactions may be conducted.

The vast majority of online exchanges are legitimate, but some criminals have used online exchange websites and mobile apps to victimize buyers or sellers. To help eliminate or at least significantly decrease the chance of such incidents, an “e-commerce safe spot” has been established here as the result of a joint effort between Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce and the Atmore Police Department.

The safe haven is located on the side parking lot of Atmore Fire Department, just a few yards from the junction of North Pensacola Avenue and Ridgeley Street and across from the city owned storage building that once served as an evidence storage facility.
AACC and APD are among the first in the Atmore area to create designated zones for carrying out such transactions.

“We believe that having an area designated for this specific purpose and which is recorded and monitored by the police department will deter those wanting to engage in criminal activity,” Chamber President Brandy Giger said.

The two marked spaces are monitored by high-definition cameras that record activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is also sufficient lighting to ensure safer transactions at night or early in the morning. The video feed from the cameras is streamed live to monitors inside the police department.

Police Chief Chuck Brooks said his officers are rarely called upon to investigate fraudulent online transactions. The new safe zone should help keep it that way, he added.

“I’m very excited and pleased to announce that we now have a secure area where people who make purchases online can meet and make their exchanges,” Brooks said. “They’ll have a place to go to that is well lit and video monitored.

“We haven’t had a lot of this type of incident recently, but we had a case a couple of years ago where a lady got robbed when she went to meet somebody she had bought something from or sold something to, online. At least now there’s somewhere for people to go where they should feel safe.”

Reservations are not necessary for those who wish to use the safety zone, which is clearly marked with signage, and there is no fee to use it.

Officials reminded those who might engage in e-commerce that city employees, especially police officers, are generally prohibited from engaging or interfering with private business transactions.

“Police officers and city employees will not participate in or help the transaction by running serial numbers to determine whether a particular item has been reported stolen or missing, nor will officers or city employees be available to witness the sale or exchange of goods,” Chamber Executive Director Emily Harp said.

Harp said the new setup is going to benefit the casual seller and buyer, as well as some established businesses.

“We feel like this is going to be a great asset to our community, so many people, including some of our stores, use the Atmore Yard Sale and other sites,” she said.

“I really feel like there is a critical need for this safety zone, since more and more people are conducting e-commerce business these days. This insures that e-commerce can happen safely.”

The police chief and Chamber officials also offered several tips for making e-commerce exchanges with strangers:

1. Never meet anyone at your home or their home. Always meet at the new e-commerce safe spot or in another public place, such as a restaurant, a shopping center or anywhere there is a high volume of pedestrian or vehicle traffic, since the presence of other people provides an additional measure of safety. Never meet in out-of-the-way locations.

2. Never conduct business inside a vehicle.

3. Avoid meeting at night. Though our safe spot is lit and under surveillance, there is no guarantee of safety.

4. Regardless of the location and time you are meeting a prospective buyer or seller, always take a family member or friend to observe and witness the transaction.

5. Be aware that some criminals use financial or personal information such as credit cards or driver’s license information to engage in identity theft and other financial crimes.

6. Be careful when sharing personal information. Never list your home address, phone number or anything else that could be used to identify you.

7. If a dispute arises when buying or selling goods or services, remember to exercise your right to terminate the transaction.

8. Conduct research on both the product you are buying and the person you’re dealing with.

9. Be wary of people who solicit your business without your permission.

10. Don’t allow the other party to change the location once you arrive.

And the most important thing to remember: If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.