This article originally appeared in Classified Intelligence Report 18.08, distributed to clients on April 27. For more information about Classified Intelligence Report, email us.

OfferUp, the stuff app founded in Seattle in 2011, uses safety to differentiate itself from other online marketplaces.

It wants to avoid the crime plaguing Craigslist, and other sites or apps, by developing a safe, online community of “real people” who can sell and trade goods without problems. Users have to create member accounts using Facebook or Gmail accounts; a program called TruYou gives users verified “badges” on their accounts if they upload selfies and driver’s licenses, or another forms of ID.

Now OfferUp has rolled out a new safety initiative: meet-up spots. It distributed kits to police departments around the U.S., encouraging them to establish safe trading zones in their parking lots.

It’s similar to the SafeTrade Stations initiative launched by the AIM Group more than two years ago. Almost 400 law enforcement agencies around the U.S. and Canada have launched SafeTrade zones, typically in their parking lots. Some urge users to transact deals in their lobbies or offices.

The AIM Group launched SafeTrade to reduce the number of rapes, robberies, muggings and killings linked to in-person transactions involving Craigslist and other websites. More than 110 killings have been linked to Craigslist transactions during the last 10 years.

The OfferUp kits include instructions, two heavy-gauge aluminum signs for posting by police departments, and an article from the law firm Seyfarth & Shaw stating that departments shouldn’t incur any liability if they set up these trade zones.

Meet-up sign
provided by

The signs include a small “Donated by OfferUp” logo. Officer Dion Olson of the Crestwood (Mo.) Police Department told the AIM Group his agency has not seen many crimes involving internet deals, but wants to “get out in front of it.”

“We were sent a meet-up spot packet, and this sparked our interest in starting a conversation with our city leaders on the feasibility of providing such a place,” Olson said.

“When these online transactions are negotiated, eventually a physical exchange will happen. An exchange space can alleviate the issue of a stranger coming to your home, and if set up properly, will be in an open, public space, hopefully deterring any criminal intent.” Olson said city officials are still researching the issue.

AIM Group founder Peter M. Zollman said the sites are an inexpensive community service for police to reduce crime.

“We’ve often criticized Craigslist for its low-key, nonchalant approach to safety and security, rather than aggressively supporting law enforcement efforts to prevent crimes linked to in-person transactions,” Zollman said. “That’s why we’re so impressed with the OfferUp program.

“We hope their work encourages even more law enforcement agencies to promote safe trade at their offices.”

On its website, OfferUp says law enforcement can order meet-up spot signs in any quantity, and “established and verified meet-up spots will eventually be listed and highlighted in the OfferUp app for customers in [a] specific area looking for a place to meet.”

“The program is just in its nascent stages of development, so we’re not quite ready to talk about it publicly,” OfferUp told us, declining further comment. The kits have been distributed for a few months. The Birmingham, Ala., police department established two meet-up spots in January with signs from OfferUp.

“Meeting people for the first time can be unsettling, especially if it’s someone from the internet,” Sgt. Bryan Shelton told The Birmingham News. “With these signs and this program, we feel we are able to provide a place where both buyers and sellers can meet that both can trust.”

The first time police formally offered their offices for use by the public for in-person transactions was in 2012, in Milwaukee, Wisc. After a string of six robberies linked to Craigslist transactions in one month, Officer Lisa Staffold of the Milwaukee Police Department said buyers and sellers should meet at police district offices to prevent problems.

“This is nothing new. It’s happening all over the country,” Stafford told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2012. “The media has deemed it ‘robbery by appointment’ because you’re posting ads, you’re selling your IPhones, your IPads, your vehicles, and when you go to a meeting location, you’re being robbed.

“If they don’t want to meet you at a police district, that should be a red flag, an indicator: Don’t do business with that individual.”

OfferUp, which is privately held with investments from Warburg Pincus, T. Rowe Price and others, was valued at $1.2 billion U.S. in a $119-million funding round last September. It claims $14 billion U.S. in transactions in 2016 and 23 million downloads of its app.

Like its rival LetGo, which was founded by OLX founder Alec Oxenford and is backed by Naspers, OfferUp is still “pre-revenue.” Both LetGo and OfferUp are remarkably similar. They’re both free to use and display search results in a Pinterest or Instagram-style feed based on the user’s location.

Both have chat systems, so users can communicate without giving out personal contact information. Neither offers built-in payment tools, although OfferUp tested them briefly. But like Craigslist and other marketplaces where transactions eventually take place in person – even ones around the world, like Trade Me, Gumtree, Wallapop, VarageSale and others – when the popularity of OfferUp and LetGo increased, so did crimes like fraud, robberies, and car theft. “Digital [media] makes it easier for a criminal to hide who they are or misrepresent themselves,” Officer Dion said. While the LetGo app offers tips for safely buying and selling, it has no formal initiative to provide safe trading stations.

The AIM Group SafeTrade initiative is open to all law enforcement departments at no charge with no trademark, copyright or fee. Likewise, SafeTrade can be offered by any classified company worldwide – AIM Group client or not.

This article originally appeared in Classified Intelligence Report 18.08, distributed to clients on April 27. For more information about Classified Intelligence Report, email us.

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