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‘Trust your gut’: Police encourage ‘Safe Exchange Zones’ for meeting strangers to sell, buy online

‘It can be as benign as getting a counterfeit bill, getting assaulted or worse’

ROANOKE, Va. – Police said a Raleigh man, Andy Banks, was robbed and killed while trying to sell a Range Rover to someone on Craiglist. That vehicle, and a body police believe belongs to Banks, were both recovered this week in southside.

Banks’ accused killer, 34-year-old Justin Merritt, is now charged with murder.

Andy Banks' close friend, Cliff Cash, said he wishes it had never come to this.

“He would have gladly given them the vehicle,” said Cash. “He would have tried to give them money. He would have done anything for them not to hurt him. They never gave him a chance, or he would have taken it.”

A friend of Banks' told the NBC affiliate WRAL that the 39-year-old regularly sold cars on the side, including this deal, which was arranged on Craigslist.

Between Craiglist, Facebook and other online marketplaces, buying or selling personal belongings, like electronics, appliances or vehicles, is easier than ever.

However, Roanoke City Police Sgt. Andrew Ashby said it can be dangerous.

“It can be as benign as getting a counterfeit bill, getting assaulted or worse," said Ashby, who works for the department’s Crimes Against Property Unit.

Similar crimes have happened in southwest Virginia before.

In a search warrant obtained by 10 News on Friday, Roanoke police said two victims who were found shot in a Sheetz parking lot on Williamson road back in July were trying to buy a car from someone they met online. They went to Eureka Park for the exchange. That’s when police said the suspects shot them.

Back in 2018, Roanoke police said that a man shot a juvenile out of self defense when he met up with people he’d spoken to online to sell a motorcycle and they tried to rob him.

“We tell our kids to be careful with strangers, just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we don’t need to be careful either," said Ashby.

If you do plan to meet up with a stranger to exchange items, police recommend going to a “Safe Exchange Zone.” Several are located across Southwest Virginia, including in Danville, Vinton, Salem and Montgomery County. They are well-lit and under video surveillance. Police also said you should bring a friend with you.

Safe Exchange Zones throughout Southwest Virginia provide safe and well-lit locations to meet strangers to exchange goods purchased online. The zones are also under video surveillance.
Safe Exchange Zones throughout Southwest Virginia provide safe and well-lit locations to meet strangers to exchange goods purchased online. The zones are also under video surveillance. (WSLS)

“If you do not know who you’re meeting, take someone with you. Let someone know where you’re going,” said Lt. Richard Chivvis, the public information officer for the Danville Police Department.

Police also recommend meeting in a busy, public shopping center or parking lot during the daytime, keeping your phone with you and turning on your phone’s location services.

“Trust your gut," said Ashby.

For a list of Safe Exchange Zones near you, click here.


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