JOPLIN — The two women who rolled into the parking lot near a busy retail store in Joplin weren't expecting trouble. Side by side in their cars, they gave each other a nod, knowing they had made the right connection.
Each woman got out. One, the "dealer," popped her trunk. The other woman moved around to see the merchandise.
Suddenly, police moved in.
But in the end, there were no arrests. The "deal" in this recent case did not involve unsavory drugs. It was a transaction brokered by Joplin Give & Take.
Kinsey Schultz created Joplin Give & Take on Facebook earlier this year. She is a stay-at-home mother of two who wanted to get the most for her money by buying and selling "gently used items." Schultz originally thought she would sell items on consignment but decided that was too much work. Instead, she put together the Facebook site as an easier and less time-consuming way to buy and sell.
She didn't anticipate the site's success when she started it in January. Joplin Give & Take now has more than 10,000 members and grows each month. It was growing so fast that Schultz had to freeze membership at one point and add three administrators to help her manage things.
On a typical Saturday afternoon, Schultz and about 20 others can be found at an empty lot near the Walmart Supercenter on Range Line Road. Members say the gatherings have a swap meet atmosphere with lots of wheeling and dealing — but no drugs.
Barbara Hunter, of Joplin, said she recently put three items up for sale on Friday and sold them all. One of the items was a bull mastiff puppy.
Most members post clothes and shoes for sale. Schultz said the best purchase she ever made was a pink, battery-operated Harley-Davidson replica motorcycle for her daughter.
Organizers of the site say they have not had many problems with the deals that are made.
"We have pretty much gotten rid of members who couldn't be respectful," Summer Johnson said.
Schultz said members are warned to use caution on the site, and to not reveal personal information in the open forum, including cellphone numbers, meeting times and locations. Administrators recommend using the personal message function on Facebook for those details.
The deals can go down at parking lots in front of retail stores or near strip malls.
In fact, it was such a deal in the Target parking lot that attracted police attention.
Joplin police officials say they didn't know about Joplin Give & Take until the day they caught the tail end of a sale. Drug deals can go down the same way, which is what had officers concerned when they saw the transaction.
Police Cpl. Chuck Niess said the Internet also lends itself to shady deals and sexual predators, and he advises people to be careful.
"The Internet is a scary place, and the criminals, at times, are able to use the anonymity of the Internet to promote their activities," he said. Sites such as Craigslist have been used for dangerous and even illegal activity.
"First, I would say never go there (a meeting place) alone," Niess said. "Meeting strangers in that type of setting is usually not a good idea since it could be a setup for any number of criminal activities; theft, robbery or a scam."
There has been only one known instance, so far, of a member buying a stolen item. Administrators said they watch out for that kind of activity, and they keep track of pictures and posts relating to the items that are bought and sold on their site.
Schultz said members are vetted through their Facebook profiles, and if administrators don't think they are legitimate, they won't add them to their site.
"We have the most rules of sites like these," Schultz said. "But we also have the best luck, good sales, and good people."