Online safety / December 09, 2019

Using online marketplaces? What you need to know to stay safe.

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise


It’s no secret that online retail is growing steadily in Canada. According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), 87% of Canadians made an online purchase in 2018. And online marketplaces are growing in lock step. Statistics Canada, in its Digital Economy report (July 2017 – June 2018), found that more than one quarter of Canadians make money through online platforms.

The most popular income-earning activity was selling new and used products through sites including Kijiji, eBay and Etsy. According to the report, selling products in these online marketplaces generated $4.9 billion in the 12 months to June 2018, an average of $722 per person.

Whether you’re buying (or selling) household goods, clothing, show tickets, electronics, furniture, a car or even real estate, safety is a top concern. There are more and more stories coming out about online marketplace transactions gone wrong (or even worse, becoming fatal). So, how can you earn some extra income or buy the things you want and stay safe at the same time?

Here are a few red flags to watch for and safety tips to follow:

  • Do your research: the general rule definitely applies here – if it seems too good to be true, chances are it is. Know your market, so you can do product/price comparisons. If you’re investing money, especially on big purchases, you want a good deal, but you also don’t want any surprises down the road. For example, if you’re looking for a car, obtain a Carfax Canada report before any purchase. You’ll gain insight on the car’s history including previous accidents, registered liens and unfixed recalls.

  • Protect your personal information: just because there is a transaction involved doesn’t mean that you should abandon your personal digital policies. Never share identification or banking details. And learn about the policies and protections available from the marketplaces themselves. For example, Kijiji will never request personal identification, passwords or banking details.

  • Meet before transacting: to make sure you’re dealing with a real person with honest intentions, suggest meeting IN PERSON before exchanging any money. A pre-transaction meeting also offers you the opportunity to examine the product (if it’s easily transportable) before buying. (Read on for tips about meeting in a safe place). If you’re in the market for a car, perhaps suggest taking the automobile in question to your mechanic for a trusted inspection and quality verification. And if you’re buying show tickets, Kijiji recommends that you insist on hard tickets (e-tickets are very easy to reproduce) and meeting at the venue, so you can authenticate and validate the tickets before buying them (that advice will come in handy for the many eager theatre-goers who were shut out of the online on-sale for Hamilton tickets. Tickets were officially available on October 28, but on October 9, Global News reported about marketplaces already offering tickets – for inflated prices, with exorbitant service fees).

  • Use trusted payment processing: if something does go awry with an online marketplace transaction, it’s important to have some sort of recourse to recover what you’ve spent (or what’s been fraudulently paid to you). PayPal offers protection for both buyers and sellers, so it’s advisable to opt for that as a payment option. Cash and money transfers work too, but there is no way of guaranteeing a refund if the car you bought breaks down after two days. And definitely be wary of anyone asking for money transfers up front (even if it’s just for a deposit) or offering personal cheques for payment. Remember, once deposited by the recipient, you cannot reverse an email money transfer. If you are going to use e-transfers, pick a strong security question and answer, so that your money remains safe if anyone comprises the recipient’s email address.

  • Plan your transaction with safety in mind: for the day of the actual transaction, especially if there is cash involved, plan a safe encounter. Meet during the day, somewhere public with lots of people around. Take a friend with you if possible. If not, share your whereabouts and any information you have on the buyer/seller with a friend or family member. Both Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace recommend meeting in the lobby of a nearby police station. It’s a very public place, and if something happens that makes you uncomfortable, you are only steps away from an officer. For transactions that involve pick up at a residence (i.e. for a piece of furniture or appliance), the same rules apply – meet during the daytime, share details and bring someone with you.

Online marketplaces are a great way to make some extra income or find both new and used items for great prices. But like anything online, buying and selling requires awareness and attention, both for your personal and financial safety. With good research, uncompromising vigilance and a few simple precautions, you can have both successful and safe experiences when buying or selling online.

Online banking & shopping
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