By Thomas Peipert, The Associated Press
The online marketplace Letgo is facing a wrongful death lawsuit after the parents of five children were fatally shot and robbed while using the app to try to buy a used SUV in suburban Denver in 2020.
The lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday on behalf of the victims’ family claims Letgo, which has been acquired by OfferUp, was negligent because it allowed the alleged shooter to become a “verified seller” using a fake name and despite his criminal history.
The lawsuit, which also names OfferUp as a defendant, argues that while Letgo advertises working with law enforcement agencies to keep its tens of millions of users safe, the only requirement to become a “verified seller” is a working email address.
“The Letgo App provides an illusion that these alleged ‘verified’ accounts can and should be trusted above their online ‘marketplace’ competition,” according to the lawsuit. “However, it has become increasingly clear that Letgo falsely advertises itself as a safe online marketplace for verified sellers without having any sort of legitimate verification process.”
A spokesman for OfferUp, based in Bellevue, Washington, said Thursday he was looking into the lawsuit but declined further comment.
The Letgo app was incorporated into a similar OfferUp app shortly after the Colorado shooting but still exists independently outside the U.S.
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In August 2020, Joseph Roland was looking for a vehicle for his teenage daughter and found a Toyota RAV4 advertised by a “verified seller” on Letgo named James Worthy, who was really an 18-year-old named Kyree Brown. Roland agreed to meet Brown in a parking lot near a mall in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
“What was supposed to be a brief and safe transaction through Letgo — turned into a tragic nightmare,” according to the lawsuit, which comes as law enforcement agencies across the country are encouraging buyers and sellers to meet in safer locations like police station parking lots.
When Roland and his wife, Jossline, arrived, Brown told them he had accidentally brought the wrong vehicle title and asked the couple to meet him elsewhere, according to the lawsuit.
They agreed and followed the man to the address, “unsuspecting of any danger, since James Worthy was a Letgo ‘verified seller,’” the lawsuit said.
Brown is accused of pulling a handgun and shooting the couple to death after Joseph Roland tried to wrestle the weapon away. Investigators say the teen then fled with the $3,000 in cash the Rolands had brought with them to pay for the SUV, which had been reported stolen a few days before the Aug. 14, 2020, encounter.
Brown was arrested about two weeks after the shooting and has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
“It is outrageous conduct that Letgo led customers to believe the App had any legitimate verification process when, any user, (let alone Mr. Brown – who had a criminal record), could use fictitious names and sell stolen vehicles as ‘verified’ by simply providing an e-mail address,” the lawsuit says.
It also contends that had Letgo implemented stricter verification policies, it would not have taken police two weeks to track down the suspect.
In the “Terms of Service” section on OfferUp’s website, the company encourages third-party meetup spots like police stations to be placed in well-lit, busy areas with surveillance cameras, but says users acknowledge there are risks when buying and selling on an internet-based marketplace.
“It is possible that other users may attempt to physically harm or defraud you or obtain information from you for fraudulent purposes,” according to the terms, which also note that OfferUp does not investigate or verify any user’s criminal background.
In addition to negligence, Thursday’s lawsuit accuses Letgo and OfferUp of fraud, misrepresentation and deceptive and unfair trade practices. It is seeking damages to be determined by a jury.
Jossline Roland used to work for the Law Offices of Dianne Sawaya in Denver. That office filed the lawsuit along with Geragos & Geragos, another firm based in Los Angeles.