Bellevue-based OfferUp.com is generating a lot of excitement for offering what it claims is a “simpler and safer way to buy and sell locally.”
However, KIRO 7 has learned, criminals are now using OfferUp.com to find their victims, as they've done for years using Craigslist and other online buying and selling sites.
An unidentified police source said one of the reasons is because many of the items offered for sale on OfferUp are expensive and attractive to thieves.
The targeting of online sellers isn’t new. Jim Sanders of Edgewood was murdered in 2010 by four suspects who responded to an ad that Sanders placed on Craigslist to sell a diamond ring
A Renton woman told KIRO 7 that Sanders’ murder was one of the reasons why she didn’t use Craigslist when she sold her 2.44-carat diamond ring last year.
“I put it on OfferUp because my dad had specifically asked me not to put it on Craigslist because he was familiar with the Craigslist killers,” the woman said from her home. She asked not to be identified because her family still doesn’t know she was the victim of a crime.
The woman advertised her ring for $12,000 and felt that OfferUp would be a safer alternative to Craigslist. “It just seemed more legit to me because of the types of photos that people had” posted on OfferUp, she said.
A few days after she posted the ad, a man who claimed that his name was Toby Richards offered to buy the ring for $11,500. The woman agreed to meet the man at Starbucks inside the Renton Target, where he gave her what appeared to be a legitimate cashier's check, then left with the expensive ring.
Days later, the woman's bank notified her that the check was a fraud. She reported the theft to the Renton Police Department, where investigators eventually learned that the same man who “bought” the woman’s ring is also suspected of targeting three other people with the same scheme: using fraudulent cashier's checks to buy expensive jewelry for sale on OfferUp.
The man's real name is Richard Jason McDonald, investigators said. He and Jessica Elaine Runnels are charged in King County Superior Court with multiple counts of theft. According to the charging documents, the couple found all four of their alleged victims on OfferUp.
The Renton jewelry heists aren’t the only recent OfferUp-related crimes. The Kent Police Department is investigating a January armed robbery in West Fenwick Park.
According to police reports, a man selling two Gucci belts on OfferUp found himself facing a black semi-automatic handgun when he met with a buyer identified only as Kyle. Investigators believe that Kyle's full name is Kyle Deswhan Rials, a 25-year-old convicted felon who is currently behind bars for allegedly attacking another man with a hatchet.
Rials has prior convictions for robbery, assault, theft and more.
The King County Sheriff's Office is also investigating multiple stolen bikes that eventually ended up for sale on OfferUp.
KIRO 7 asked the company for an on-camera interview to explain how it provides "a safer way to buy and sell locally," as it claims.
Instead of an interview, OfferUp’s vice president of marketing, Ian Fliflet, provided a link claiming that "verified" email addresses ensure that "you'll know there is a real person on the other end” and that users can "find out if you have trusted connections with both buyers and sellers by connecting your Facebook account."
Facebook accounts led Renton police to McDonald and Runnels eventually, but not before they'd apparently victimized multiple people.
“Unfortunately, anyone can make up a fake Facebook page, a fake email address,” Terri Vickers of the Renton Police Department said. “You can be anyone you want to be in cyberspace.”
OfferUp and Craigslist have security suggestions on their websites, which include conducting transactions only in public places. But Vickers suggests that buyers and sellers agree to meet in a police station lobby. If the other party refuses, Vickers advises that you do business with someone else.
STATEMENT FROM OFFERUP.COM
Thanks for reaching out Amy. We are always looking for ways to help our users stay safe. We are a new marketplace and the safety of our users is a top priority for OfferUp. If they encounter problems, we encourage them to contact us or the appropriate authorities depending on the situation. We will always work with authorities to resolve these types of issues.
Here is a link to our page that helps users with a successful OfferUp experience. There you will find more of the guidance and feedback we give our users, including information on TruYou and more tips on a successful transaction click here.
For more on information from City of Renton to protect yourself, click here.