CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
HORSESHOE BAY — The popularity and potential risk of online sales and private swaps has prompted Horseshoe Bay city officials to offer so-called “safe zones” at the police and fire departments for residents to conduct in-person transactions with strangers.
“We’re offering them a safe location as opposed to feeling the need to invite them to their house,” City Manager Stan Farmer said. “We want to rule out or negate anything possibly happening where someone outside the city travels to one of our resident’s houses and the unthinkable happens.”
From Craigslist and Facebook bartering pages to newspaper advertising and little-known website listings, conducting business in a public agency parking lot can offer Horseshoe Bay residents an added security buffer.
“The Internet — almost every day we’re getting reports of new scams going on. It’s rampant,” Horseshoe Bay Police Chief Bill Lane said. “There is so much misconduct going on when it comes to Internet transactions, thefts and fraud.
“We’re at a time when everyone has to be watching out for their own personal safety as it pertains to fraudulent activity,” Lane added. “I don’t encourage anyone to invite someone into their home who they just met online.”
Along with fraud, recent reports indicate violence has become a potential threat.
“What you’re setting yourself up for is a potential robbery, burglary or perhaps even personal harm,” Lane said. “I’ve seen instances around the country where, specifically, females were targeted.”
In Waco in January, two women robbed a third woman in a grocery store parking lot after answering an online advertisement for a car.
In January 2014, police shot and arrested a man who they believed to be a serial robber targeting people who answered online ad listings in Fort Worth.
Also in January 2014, a robber in Tennessee stole $7,300 from a woman attempting to buy a car from him in a grocery store parking lot after answering a Craigslist advertisement.
In May 2014 in Maryland, robbers took cash and personal items of a man who thought he was going to a home to buy a dirt bike he found advertised online.
“We’ve reached a point where a person has to somewhat watch over themselves,” said Lane of the safe zones. “When that person is told, ‘I want to meet at the police department or fire department, and we’re putting them on notice of the meeting’, if this is a person who has criminal intent, that meeting will go away.”
The safe-exchange program requires residents to contact city officials to let them know in advance the time and date of the meeting and the names of those involved in the transaction.
“Police and fire personnel will not be involved in the transaction in any way,” Farmer said.
The safe zones are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
The police and fire departments are located at 1 Community Drive.
Contact the police department by calling (830) 598-2633.
“Just like our Baywatch program, where if someone is going out of town the police can go by their house and check every day,” Farmer said. “That’s a service we provide above and beyond most police departments, so this is just in line with that.”