Buyers / Sellers Beware
Just a reminder to those that buy and sell online.
TORONTO - Online classified ads can be a great way to sell unwanted things and get a bargain on treasures.
But if you’re not careful, you could be paying for the transaction with your life.
In light of the crushing news of Tim Bosma, the missing 32-year-old father whose remains were found earlier this week, police and e-commerce experts are reminding the public to be vigilant in making safety a priority when buying and selling things off sites such as Craigslist or Kijiji.
Bosma disappeared after going for a test drive the night of May 6 with allegedly with two men who answered his online ad to sell a black Dodge Ram pickup truck.
Dellen Millard, 27, has been charged with first-degree murder, forcible confinement and theft over $5,000.
“It’s kind of like the wild west out there, because you’re dealing with people anywhere and everywhere,” said Joe Couto of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
The first thing Couto recommends is meeting someone in a public place during business hours.
“The real key is never allow people into your home,” Couto said. “You’re putting yourself in danger. Always have someone with you. Don’t put yourself in a position where something could happen to you and no one’s there to witness it.”
Buyers and sellers should also never give away personal information in an online ad, including their name, address or phone number, Couto said. If you’re selling a truck, get a copy of the driver’s licence.
Tim Richardson, an e-commerce professor at Seneca College and University of Toronto, said too much information can include an e-mail handle that states your name such as “johnsmith93.”
“The fundamental principle of personal safety is that you do not have to be perfect, you simply have to make some precautions better than the average person and you’ll be OK,” Richardson said. “’Bad guys’ seek out people who do not even take the basic precautions because they are easy to scam — if you follow basic precautions, you’ll avoid these types of criminals.”
Richardson recommends investing in a “burn phone,” a disposable pay-as-you-go phone with a number different number than your cellphone, which will help safeguard against harassment.
“Keep in mind that ‘bad guys’ will use ‘burn phones’ too, so you may be caught the same way if you try to follow-up with some shady person,” he said.
Parry Aftab, a New York-based lawyer specializing in Internet privacy and security law, called Bosma’s death “really tragic.”
“A lot of it was done on the phone, so they didn’t have a lot of cyber communications, which are like a trail of cyber breadcrumbs running right to the door,” she said speaking of the Bosma case.
Kijiji said in a statement this week the ad Bosma posted didn’t have any personal information, nor did it receive any replies, “which determines the incident did not occur as a result of his ad posting on Kijiji.”
The majority of the millions of people who use these sites are honest, but there is a small percentage — “although rare,” Aftab said, who hunt prey using these online classified sites as a tool.
Philip Markoff was dubbed as “The Craigslist Killer” after being charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery of three sex workers he met off the website in 2009. Mark Twitchell posed as a woman on the dating site, Plenty of Fish, to lure 38-year-old Johnny Altinger to his Edmonton garage in 2008, where he bludgeoned and stabbed Altinger to death before dismembering his body.
“Somebody got tied up and robbed by selling their TV,” Couto said, recalling another incident in the U.S. “They invited them into their house. That stuff does happen. Criminals are looking for opportunities and if people don’t take precautions then they can be a victim of crime particularly when selling things online.”
Toronto Police Const. Tony Vella said while people can call their local police station for advice, because of policy and lack of resources, officers can’t do background checks on sellers or buyers off these online sites. It’s really up to the person to use their common sense.
“You really need to trust your gut feeling,” said Vella. “If you suspect something’s wrong, you’re probably right.”
Things you can do to protect yourself on online classified sites:
•Never give out your personal information, including your address, name and home phone number in an ad. Use an e-mail address that doesn’t reveal personal details about who you are.
•Always meet during business hours in a public place. If you’re selling a car, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to meet in front of a local police station. Always bring at least one friend with you. Never go alone with a person on a test-drive.
•Tell the buyer/seller in advance that you will be meeting them in the company of a second (or third person) and that you will take a photo of them on your smartphone and you will ask to see their driver’s licence. If they hesitate even the slightest, do not meet them and move on to another customer.
•Only accept cash transactions in person. No PayPal.
•Use a ‘burn phone,’ a disposable pay-as-you-go phone to avoid any harassment down the road
•U.S. digital safety expert Parry Aftab suggested Googling the person you’re communicating with to see if they have previously been involved in any scams — that while not reported to police — may show up in Facebook feeds or blogs.
•Tell them (if you are the buyer) that you’ll need to confirm the product is indeed what you are paying for, before you hand over the money and that you may bring a second person regarding this.
•If you’re uncertain about safety of any transactions, call your local police for advice. It’s not a bother.
—Sources: Toronto Police, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, Parry Aftab, Tim Richardson