CHICAGO (WLS) -- Online marketplace scams are not new. This latest rash, however, appears to be the work of the same group of thieves, with most of the incidents taking place during daylight hours within a couple of blocks of each other here in Englewood.
Chicago police have issued an alert after at least 19 people have been robbed trying to buy a specific item off resale websites over the last few months.
CPD said in each incident, victims are using social media sites, like Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp, to purchase a motorbike or ATV.
Two police squad cars sat at Ogden Park near the corner of Marquette and Elizabeth in Englewood Wednesday morning, just steps from where investigators say the robberies happened.
The victims would arrive in the 6700-block of South Elizabeth Street in Englewood, and the suspects would approach them with handguns and rob them, Chicago police said.
Three of the four locations disclosed in the community alert are just steps from each other. The overwhelming majority, however, have taken place near a vacant lot, which police sources said allowed the thieves use as a convenient getaway spot. The location is also as part of the scam, telling their victims the alleyway is where their newly purchased vehicle is parked, allowing them to rob the unsuspecting victims at gunpoint away from prying eyes.
One person who almost became a victim did not want to be identified.
"It was for a dirt bike and just up for sale, and it seemed like a good price, like something you wouldn't wanna pass up on," the individual said. "I mean I'm still kind of shocked. It's kind of hard to think about. Just 'cause it's happening so quickly -- are you thinking we're going to get a dirt bike to have some fun, and you end up getting robbed and who knows."
While many suburban police stations specifically designate and sign-post spots as safe exchange zones for online purchases, the Chicago Police department does not. They do, however, recommend people find a safe and neutral location to conduct these transactions, suggesting the use police station lobbies.
"Once you enter the police station, you'll come into a lobby... Just let one of the officers know your reason for being in the police station so that they will be aware what's going on just in case of an emergency," officials said in a recent PSA.
So far there have been no reports of any injuries in any of the cases, but neighbors in the area are concerned.
Descriptions of the offenders remain vague, making it hard to identify them.
One neighbor that lives on the block where most of these have happened admits they're scared, but simply does not know what they can do until these men are caught.
A spokesperson for META, the company that owns Facebook, would not say if they are working with CPD to help identify the culprits but they did say, "Law enforcement who seek records can contact us via our Safety Center. We respond to valid legal requests and may also share information with law enforcement and regulators in cases where it may prevent prayed or other types of illegal activity."
The spokesperson also said they provide "robust resources for people on how to shop safely on facebook." META included a link to educational modules and tips, as well as Marketplace tips that include how to avoid scams, tips for meeting in person and how to report listings.