Vol. 80, No. 4Just the facts

Man's hand wearing watch with red strap holds up cellphone outside on a street with cars in the background.

Buy-and-sell crimes

Buyers and sellers should use caution when purchasing or exchanging items advertised online.


Using online buy-and-sell sites has become the fastest and most convenient way to sell, purchase or exchange items, advertise services or events, and even find jobs. But buyer and seller beware. Besides the many honest deal-makers out there are those who will take advantage of well-meaning customers.

  • The most popular classifieds sites used for buying, selling or trading items and services online include Kijiji, Craigslist and Facebook. Those used to advertise and find jobs include Workopolis, Indeed and Monster.
  • Crimes related to online buy-and-sell sites include selling counterfeit or stolen items, phishing for personal and banking information with the intent to commit fraud, and robbery, assault and murder during an exchange.
  • In 2017, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 8,134 complaints of solicitations of fraud through the internet, including those directly connected to buy-and-sell sites. The same year, almost 6,000 victims lost slightly more than $15 million.
  • Online sellers like Amazon and eBay have seen a big increase of counterfeit items in recent years, as organized crime slowly saturates the market, according to the former vice-chair of the Scottish Anti-Illicit Trade Group, George Clyde.
  • In Canada, 115 people became victims of purchasing counterfeit items and lost a total of $356,454 in 2017, according to the anti-Fraud Centre. The same year, 1,105 people reported the suspected sale of counterfeit merchandise.
  • Although rare, violent cyber-related incidents such as homicide and other related violations such as physical assaults, in Canada are increasing — 23,996 in 2016, up from 15,184 in 2015 — according to a report from Statistics Canada.
  • On May 6, 2013, Tim Bosma, 32, was murdered in Ancaster, Ont., after accompanying two people during a test drive of the truck he had advertised for sale.
  • On Sep. 19, 2016, two men in Ottawa were attacked at knife-point and robbed, in separate incidents, when they met with two people who responded to each of their ads for cellphones.
  • In an extreme case in the United States, a seven-months pregnant Michelle Wilkins, 26, of Longmont, Colo., responded to a Craigslist ad for free maternity clothes. When she arrived at the seller's home, she was brutally attacked and her unborn baby cut out of her womb and abducted. Wilkins survived the attack, but her baby did not.
  • For victims, falling for a fraudulent online job posting has resulted in losing money when asked to participate in an investment, or promised reimbursement of expenses, only to receive a bounced cheque, according to the Better Business Bureau. Pyramid schemes are also common.
  • In 2017, there were 1,746 complaints and 492 victims of cybercrime related to fake job posts, and more than $3 million worth of loss, according to a report from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
  • The most common types of deceitful job ads are for the positions of mystery shopper, human resources or admin, and financial receiver or agent, says the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
  • In Canada, vehicles, bikes, boats and firearms that have been reported stolen are entered into the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database, in which the public may search an item's identification number.
  • In 2015, the Better Business Bureau launched the Scam Tracker — a user-driven heat map of scam hot spots across Canada and the United States. Members of the public may report details of personal incidents on the site including when and where they were scammed, the scam type, and details about how it went down.
  • The RCMP in British Columbia are the latest to encourage the public to use the area in front of their local police detachment to meet with buyers or sellers when exchanging items advertised online. Numerous other RCMP detachments and police services across Canada are saying the video surveillance and presence of police in these safe zones will discourage any crooked deals or ill intentions.
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