EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As local police departments are offering their property as a safe place for people to conduct Craigslist deals and other sales transactions, a local startup created an app to help people protect their identities when buying and selling online.
The East Grand Rapids Department of Public Safety is launching a six-month pilot program aimed at helping prevent crimes connected to Craigslist transactions. It is modeled after a similar program started by the Lowell Police Department this past winter.
Officers will allow the public to conduct a purchase or sale in the lobby or parking lot of the East Grand Rapids Public Safety Bulding, located at 770 Lakeside Drive SE.
“In this electronic age, we have a lot of good tools available to the public and sometimes they can be misused,” East Grand Rapids Public Safety Director Mark Herald told 24 Hour News 8. “There have been incidents of crime associated with Craigslist, and sometimes it’s during the transaction process, so all we’re trying to do here is prevent crime and give people a safe place to go.”
Officers with the department will allow the public to conduct a purchase or sale in the lobby or parking lot of the East Grand Rapids Public Safety Building, located at 770 Lakeside Drive SE. The program is offered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. It is available to non-East Grand Rapids residents, as well.
Participants must call the East Grand Rapids Department of Public Safety at 616.949.7010 before coming to the station to conduct their transaction.
“Just call us in advance, and it can be five or 10 minutes,” Herald said.
To participate in the program, both the buyer and seller must sign a Safe Haven Use Agreement stating that neither the public safety department nor the City of East Grand Rapids are responsible for supervising, intervening or facilitating the sales transaction and cannot be held liable for any loss, injury or damage during the exchange.
“Once they sign the waiver, they can go ahead and complete their transaction. That protects the city and it also allows us to track how many of these transactions we’re going to be doing,” Herald said.
The Lowell program also uses a waiver.
APP AIMS TO PROTECT PEOPLE CONDUCTING ONLINE TRANSACTIONS
“Our business is about creating a platform for people to use that keeps them safe throughout the entire range of things to do on Craigslist,” Erik Alburg, the founder and CEO of Intryst, said. “What we actually do is create an application where you register for an account and basically put in the phone number they want to call, and we create a bridge number so that bridge number facilitates all communication and nobody knows that they’re actually on the platform.”
The idea came about two years ago and started off as a dating application.
“We (co-founders) both had experiences with close family members and friends who went through basic phone number abuse, where they’ve given out a phone number and then bad things have happened from there — the relentless texts, the phone calls, just people that won’t leave you alone. We realized there was a need for another layer of control over your phone number and your identity and then over time, we found it resonated well with the Craigslist audience and people looking to buy and sell locally and online,” Bryce Kaiser, the other co-founder of Intryst, said.
The business hopes to also team up with local law enforcement agencies.
“A lot of law agencies recognize Craigslist is actually becoming a problem as far as crime goes, so a lot of them are opening up safe haven locations,” Alburg said.”We want to partner with them and figure out where they can meet, people can meet, and actually provide that as a resource on our site as well.”
The co-founders said they want to make using Craigslist safer and deter crime from happening before it even reaches the transaction process.
“Craigslist can be a very nice experience, it can be. Everybody when you talk to them about Craigslist has that initial gut reaction of, ‘Oh, I’m a little bit scared to do it because I don’t know who I’m talking to.’ So I do want to make the commerce experience better and more seamless so people feel comfortable making transactions out of there,” Alburg said.