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Robbers are luring victims through marketplace apps, DA warns

After prosecuting three cases this month where buyers and sellers of used merchandise have allegedly been robbed or assaulted in the process of making a transaction, the Erie County District Attorney's Office warned potential victims of the perils of online marketplace apps.

"We have seen a tremendous uptick recently with regard to these social media apps, where people can buy stuff online and put stuff online to sell, and when individuals come to the actual meeting point to engage in a transaction, a crime occurs," said District Attorney John J. Flynn, during a news conference at his office Wednesday.

Such crimes are becoming more common with the proliferation of online marketplace apps, such as Letgo and OfferUp, and dating apps, such as Skout and MeetMe.

Young people are especially vulnerable to while making transactions using these apps, Flynn said.

According to Flynn, 19-year-old Tyquan Demonia, of Buffalo, allegedly committed a series of robberies and larcenies between June 30 and July 25 on North Parade Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Park, by allegedly luring victims using various social media marketplace and dating apps.

Demonia was charged with first-degree robbery and six counts of fourth-degree grand larceny before State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia.

Jerwan Stone III, 21, of Buffalo, was arraigned Feb. 11 before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns on two counts of second-degree robbery after allegedly robbing a juvenile victim Stone contacted through the app "OfferUp."

On Oct. 30, 2017, the victim went to Tremaine Avenue in Kenmore to sell jeans and a pair of sneakers to Stone, who allegedly grabbed the seller, punched him in the face and stole the items.

"So, it could occur either way," Flynn said.

"You could be a victim if you're trying to sell the stuff online. You could be the victim if you're trying to buy the stuff online," he added.

Stone's alleged accomplice, 19-year-old Jose Michel, of Buffalo, pleaded guilty Jan. 10  to second-degree attempted robbery and faces a maximum of four years in prison when sentenced April 12, Flynn said.

Another underage perpetrator pleaded guilty Feb. 1 before Erie County Court Judge Sheila A. DiTullio to second-degree attempted robbery in a case where the victim, on Nov. 19, arrived at a Hewitt Avenue residence in Buffalo to purchase an iPhone for $300. Flynn said the underage perpetrator displayed a handgun, demanded the victim hand over the $300 and fled the scene.

The defendant, whose name was not released because of his youthful offender status, faces a maximum of four years in prison when sentenced in early April, Flynn said.

Flynn was joined at the news conference by Buffalo Police Capt. Jeffrey D. Rinaldo, who advised those who use the marketplace and dating apps to use common sense when engaging in transactions.

"Always, always do these transactions in a public place. Never bring somebody to your house who is a stranger if you don't have an identity of who they are," Rinaldo said.

He also advised that such transactions should occur in well-lit areas, preferably during daytime hours.

"Make sure you always bring a friend or, at the very least, have a cell phone with you in the event that the transaction goes south, as well as you are free to use any Buffalo police station for conducting these transactions. Every one of our stations has a public parking space, which is generally right in front of the building or you can use the lobby of the police station," Rinaldo said.

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