Hartford PD urge people to use ‘Safe Lot’ for online transactions

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HARTFORD --  In the light of eight current investigations of people being robbed and assaulted due to face-to-face online transactions, police urge people to use the "Safe Lot" parking lot for online purchases.

The Hartford Police Department Major Crimes Division said over the past several months, they have been investigating several social media related armed robberies and carjacking’s within Hartford. Police said, in those cases, victims agreed to meet at a certain location and complete a transaction from the online site "Offer Up."

Hartford Police Department Deputy Chief Brian Foley, said all of the incidents occurred to people who were not from Hartford.

"Of the eight cases being investigated, none of the victims were Hartford residents. Some victims came from as far as Lawrence and Springfield Massachusetts, Middletown, East Hartford, and New Britain," said Foley.

Foley added, "This is new, as the origin of our well known “Safe Lot” program stemmed from incidents related to Craigslist robberies. We are now seeing several online open market sites that have the potential for similar victimization."

Police said, in some cases, victims were assaulted and suspects flashed knives or guns. Victims were also robbed for their phones, wallets, money and purses. In three cases, cars have been reported stolen.

Two arrests have been made after an incident on December 6, 2016. A victim from Lawrence, Mass. responded to an "OfferUp" ad regarding the sale of a Playstation 4 and an Apple iWatch. He was lured into an apartment on Clark Street, and was robbed at knife-point.

Police arrested Hakeen Ferguson, 21, and Ezekiel Myrie, 19, in this case. Both were charged with first-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree.

(Left to Right) - Ezekiel Myrie and Hakeem Ferguson

In another case in January, when a victim was carjacked, robbed at gunpoint by two males, and assaulted, one juvenile arrest has been made. Police have not yet arrested the other suspect.

In total, Hartford Police have arrested two adults and two juveniles. Police said there are two other outstanding suspects with active felony warrants. A third outstanding suspect has been identified and one warrant is pending, according to police. Officers expect more arrests to be made.

FOX61 spoke to a victim to an armed robbery stemming from an "Offer Up," transaction. She was with her infant son and mother-in-law.

Pooja St. Amand said she was selling her mother's iPad and was asked by the buyer to meet her behind Parker Memorial Community Center.

When the men approached her car, she said she did not get out but communicated with them through the window. When they asked her to turn it on, she realized her mother's information needed to be cleared out if it. While trying to figure that out, she and her mother-in-law conversed with the men for about 45 minutes.

"They’re strangers, but they were kids you know and they seemed innocent," St. Amand said.

The baby began crying so her mother-in-law opened the door to check on him. That's when St. Amand said one of the men reached over her mother-in-law, took the keys out of the ignition, and threw them outside the car. A man then tried to take her purse from her and when she tried to fight back he reached for a gun.

"You have no choice but to give everything that you have to them to not put yourself and your family at harm," she said. "I was so scared."

She said the men took their purses, wallets and a cell phone.

Her mother-in-law said she jumped out of the car to try to get the men away from the baby. She had her second cell phone in hand and said she was calling 911. That's when the men fled.

The women said the incident still haunts them.

"It could have been so bad," St Amand said. "She has night terrors all the time, I was having night terrors of someone coming and attacking me and the family, its just not a good feeling."

St. Amand said this was her first time using, "Offer Up," but her mother-in-law used it plenty times before.

She said she will never use it again but hopes those that do take the proper measures to be safe.

Hartford Police suggests that the front parking lot to the Public Safety Complex at 253 High Street, can be used as a safe meeting location for internet transactions.