After a string of robberies linked to Facebook Marketplace — including one at gunpoint — Vancouver police are warning the public of the risks of meeting strangers in-person to buy and sell used goods listed on the internet.
"We've had, since the weekend, three very concerning incidents," said Sgt. Steve Addison of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) in an interview.
"Involving people who've been victimized when meeting up with a stranger to sell something that they've posted online."
Of the three robberies reported to police in the last few days, Addison says two happened in the Champlain Heights neighourhood in southeast Vancouver.
According to police, a 21-year-old man, who met a buyer named Matthew to sell a used phone, was assaulted with a weapon and bear spray at around 7 p.m. Saturday night.
Addison says he was robbed of his phone, hit in the head and suffered injuries that required medical attention.
Around noon on Sunday, police say a man in his 30s agreed to meet someone to sell two used iPhones, but a teenage suspect grabbed both the phones and ran away. In this case, the victim wasn't hurt.
Armed robbery in a coffee shop
At around 8 p.m. on Monday, a man meeting someone to sell them a designer watch had a gun pulled on him in a coffee shop, in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood in southwestern Vancouver, Addison says.
The suspect is described as a bearded man in his 30s who walked into the cafe, pointed his weapon and stole the watch, before jumping in a getaway vehicle waiting outside.
"These victims seemed to have done everything right," said Addison. "They arranged a meeting in a public, populated location and they still fell victim."
Addison says all three sellers were targeted over Facebook Marketplace — the social network's selling platform, for everything from used clothing and furniture, to hiking gear and electronics — but the warning extends to users of other websites, including Craigslist and Kijiji.
"We need to let people know that this is happening so they can take reasonable steps for their own safety," he said.
Addison says police don't know whether the incidents are connected but they aren't ruling out "similar players" working together to target people selling goods online, as the robberies took place within a few days.
The VPD is suggesting anyone arranging a meet up to buy or sell used goods to make the exchange outside its headquarters at 2120 Cambie St., which it says are well lit and monitored by surveillance cameras.
"We want people to know that it's here, and they're more than welcome to use it," said Addison.
Addison invites anyone who has been a victim of a similar crime to report it by contacting the police non-emergency line at 604-717-3321.
He also encourages anyone who sees this type of robbery happening to immediately call 911.