Virginia Beach robbery cases illustrate need for care in online dealmaking


COURTHOUSE – Two local cases are among the growing number of alleged crimes resulting from digital marketplaces that link buyers and sellers.

The mobile application OfferUp, which operated similarly to the classified site Craigslist, was the conduit between robbers and victims in two robbery investigations this past month, according to affidavits filed by Virginia Beach detectives at the courthouse.

Detectives sought records from OfferUp about two suspects following robberies on the 600 block of Aubrey Drive at about 11 p.m., Sunday, May 1 and at the Parkway Shopping Center on the 1900 block of Lynnhaven Parkway at about 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 4.

In the Aubrey Drive case, two people met suspects to purchase an iPhone for a friend, but two suspects instead robbed them of $443, according to a summary prepared by city Detective D.M. Nolff.

And a man who arrived at Parkway Shopping Center to sell a pair of Nike sneakers for $300 had the sneakers taken from him at gunpoint, according to a summary in the warrant by Detective J.T. Atwood.

In each case, the warrants sought information on those who set up the meetings that resulted in alleged armed robberies.

A suspect has been arrested and charged in the case at Parkway Shopping Center. Police said Donte R. Lawrence, 21, of the 600 block of Crows Nest Court, was charged with robbery, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, receipt of stolen goods, and conspiracy to commit a felony. 

The other case remains under investigation, Master Police Officer Cason, a department spokesperson, said on Tuesday, May 24. 

Such robberies are seemingly commonplace now, he noted.

Robberies using the application, among other classified sites, have been reported around the country, including robberies and homicides such as the alleged killing of a man this past year who arranged through OfferUp to sell a gold chain in Montebello, Calif., according to KABC-TV.

Police there credited with helping their investigation – and they discovered a possible additional victim, KTLA-TV reported.

In Indianapolis, a man was charged with murder this year after police linked him to a crime through the application.

Police in Prince George’s County, Md., warned that robberies involving online classified sites are on the rise following the arrest of two suspects in robberies there, according media reports. 

Two teens in Illinois are accused of shooting at potential customers following an OfferUp meet-up gone wrong last year, The Chicago Tribune reported. 

The site urges users to meet in public places, such as shopping centers or even local police stations. Law enforcement officials urge caution, too.

Last year, Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera promoted an effort to make transactions here safer. 

The “Find a Safe Place” program encouraged people using online classified or marketplace sites to conduct in-person transactions in the lobby of any of the four police precincts or in their parking lots. 

This did not apply to things such as large household items, landscaping equipment or, of course, contraband, stolen goods or illegal items.

The department also offered these tips for online transactions:

Be very suspicious of a buyer or seller who changes the meeting location.

Always meet the buyer or seller in a public place where plenty of people are around.

Avoid meeting on side streets or places that are poorly lit.

Take someone with you, and inform the buyer or seller that you will not be alone.

Consider conducting the transaction in the police precinct parking lot or lobby. 

For the First Precinct, the lobby is at 2509 Princess Anne Road.

© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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