CRESTVIEW — When then-police officer, now investigator, Christie London responded to a call for service at a local store’s parking lot, she found a distraught woman who had just bought what she thought was a bargain: gold jewelry for only $50.
Except the metal was cheap gold-tone plate, and the seller, who had advertised the jewelry on social media, was long gone, taking with her the woman’s $50 in cash.
As residents become innovative with their Christmas shopping, turning to social media such as Craigslist, Freecycle and Swap.com, mixed among the bargains and rarities are occasional pieces of worthless junk.
While the Crestview Police Department can’t always track down the hoaxers — who usually operate under fake names and use temporary accounts they often abandon right after sales — the agency can offer a safer place to bring sellers and buyers together.
Under 24-hour daily video surveillance, the CPD "safe swap zone" is in a well-lit west section of the parking lot right in front of the Whitehurst Municipal Building, 201 Stillwell Blvd.
Activity in the zone is covered by the same security system that protects police headquarters, with digital video back-up on a two-week loop, so any questionable exchanges can be immediately reviewed.
"We can’t completely stop fraudulent swaps from occurring," Police Chief Tony Taylor said. "But our safe swap zone will certainly discourage most con artists, none of whom like the idea of being clearly captured on security cameras."
Taylor said the safe swap zone also has other benefits, such as providing a safe place for estranged parents to exchange children from one former spouse’s custody to the other’s care.
If necessary, a police officer can also be called to supervise the custody exchange by simply requesting one at the Police Department’s Dispatch Center window inside the Whitehurst Building or calling 682-2055.
London was unable to find the con artist who stiffed the unfortunate jewelry purchaser. But with the implementation this summer of the Police Department’s safe swap zone, residents will have a secure location where such transactions are recorded on security video and potential hoaxers can possibly be identified.