COVINGTON - Law enforcement officials are issuing "buyer beware" warnings to bargain hunters in these perilous economic times.
Sgt. Arvo Bowen, who primarily works property crimes for the Covington Police Department, warns that supposed bargains can have hidden penalties such as criminal charges.
"Times are hard right now and good, honest people are finding ways to make dollars stretch," he said. "What they're doing is buying things from people they wouldn't ordinarily think about buying from."
He said a person who is offering to sell a television worth $1,000 for a mere $150 is definitely not someone to do business with as there's a good chance the television is stolen.
"The law on theft by receiving basically says that you either know something was stolen or you should have known it was stolen," he said. "You, being an honest person trying to stretch a dollar, could find yourself culpable in a charge of theft by receiving and all you were doing is trying to make your paycheck stretch."
He said he made a recent arrest and was able to trace items stolen by the suspect to three different locations.
"He sold probably $2,000 worth of equipment for $40," Bowen said. "We are usually able to trace back those items because the person who gets caught will tell us where he sold it."
He said people need to know that when stolen items are traced back to them, it could spell big trouble.
"Know if you buy stolen items, you're going to get arrested for buying it and having it. Even if it's a deal, it's just not worth it," he said. "People have said for years and it's true today - if it looks like it's too good to be true, it probably is."
He cautioned to even know who you are dealing with when donating items to charity as there have been recent incidents of people thinking they are donating cars or other large items only to discover too late that they turned their property over to a crook who is long gone.
"Some people are being scammed when a guy shows up at someone's house and saying he works for a charitable organization that sells donated automobiles," he said. "Someone comes out and picks up the car and then, of course, the people are looking for a receipt for their taxes."
That's when they discover that the charitable organization never received their donation.
He also cautioned to be aware of your surroundings when you're out, not leaving purses unattended or in plain view inside the car.
At home, Bowen said citizens should keep valuables out of sight as well, cautioning not to leave expensive power equipment or trailers for ATVs or lawn equipment in the front yard for anybody to see.
"Some criminals, that's their job. They ride around and look for opportunities in the day time so that when it's night, they come and know exactly what to do and it's easy pickings," he said.
He pointed out another problem that he said plagues families all across the nation.
"If you have a family member who you know has a drug or addiction problem, don't leave your checkbook and credit cards available for them because it's just a temptation," he said.
Even though the victim has had money stolen, he said often banks and credit card companies won't refund the money unless a criminal charge is made.
"So many times we find families faced with having to prosecute their own family members because they can't afford what they've run up with forged checks, financial transaction card thefts and things like that. You either have to pay it or prosecute."
Sgt. Mike Tinsley also urged people to be aware of those who via mail or Internet offer fabulous wealth for doing little or nothing.
"People get things in the mail that says, 'Hey, you won $10,000, but first you've got to send us $500. An alarm should go off right then," he said, adding that it is very easy to check out these offers before you act. "They should call us, get on the Internet, research where it's coming from. Nine times out of 10 it's bogus. Don't get caught up in the lure of making quick money because in the end, you're not. You're going to lose money."
Finally, Bowen said he would urge citizens to ensure their own financial safety by cooperating with police if they know about nefarious dealings.
"There was a push for awhile on 'Don't be a snitch.' The people who created that phrase and are pushing it are criminals," he pointed out. "If you know criminals and you know they are stealing or doing something illegal, sooner or later, they're going to get around to you. You're going to become a victim. People need to look at it like they're not snitching, they're just protecting themselves."
He said anyone needing to talk to a police officer can call 911 and tell them they need to talk to a police officer and they'll be put in touch with someone who can take their information and will keep it confidential.
SideBar: Police Tips
Tips on drug-related or other suspected crimes can be sent online at www.rockdalesheriff.com/drugs.php.
CONYERS PD Tips
Anyone with information about suspicious activity in the city of Conyers can contact the Conyers Police Department at 770-483-6600. Anonymous tips can be left at 770-483-TIPS (8477) or online by clicking on "Eye on Conyers" on the city's Web site, www.conyersga.com.
Anyone with information about suspected criminal activity in Newton County can call the Newton County Sheriff's Office at 678-625-1400. Tips can be given to the NCSO anonymously at 678-625-5007 or through its Web at www.newtonsheriffga.org and clicking on "anonymous tip line." Those who want a response from NCSO personnel should leave contact information.
COVINGTON PD Tips
Police ask that anyone with information on a case to call the CPD at 770-786-7605. Tips can be given to the CPD anonymously by visiting its Web site at www.covingtonpolice.com and clicking on "contact us" and then "secret witness."