Citizens are being advised to be vigilant and extremely cautious when meeting with anyone in person, after connecting with them online.

Inspector Ashraf Ali of the Trinidad And Tobago Police Service (TTPS) is reminding citizens that people will not always reveal their identity—or their true intentions—on social media.

The advice comes after a recent report of a man being robbed and assaulted after being lured to a remote location by a woman he met online, as well as several cases of persons doing business transactions online to purchase goods, only to have their money stolen by the online seller and the item never shipped or received.

The TTPS spokesman urges citizens to always conduct these business transactions or personal meetings in public spaces.

“Find a place that is heavily populated with traffic and many persons around, such as a mall,” Inspector Ali advises.  “Avoid meeting in lonely or isolated places where you won’t be able to call for help. It doesn’t matter how well you think you know the person, or how trustworthy you might think they are, the safe and smart thing to do is meeting in public place.”

He adds: “Try to do some research or background checks on the person or online seller beforehand, to determine whether their account is fake.  It is important to ask for some form of identification from the person while still dealing with them online, which you can then verify when you meet them in person.”

“Bottom line—if you have any doubts at all, don’t continue with the transaction, or don’t agree to the meeting,” he says.

Inspector Ali points out that no matter how long one may have been communicating with another person online, the reality is that one has no idea as to who the person truly is, and whether their intentions are for good or ill.

He encourages citizens file reports to the TTPS via the Police Service mobile app or website, or at any police station, if they have been scammed in an online transaction or were attacked by someone they initially connected with online.