Trust, safety and the hazards of online transactions

An experienced online shopper and police share tips about protecting safety when using online classifieds, from selling a car to finding a roommate.
Amanda Kennedy says it is important to be safe and practice caution when using online website like Kijiji. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Kennedy)

When St. John's resident Amanda Kennedy went to meet a possible new roommate, she told her sister she would call her afterwards. That's because Kennedy found her potential roommate on Kijiji, and wanted to make sure the meeting would be safe.

Kennedy is aware of recent incidents in other Canadian cities, where users of online classifieds like Kijiji have become victims of violence, such as the highly publicized case in Hamilton in which Tim Bosma was killed soon after he left for a test drive with two men.

She says that story is a tragedy and will make her more careful, but she will continue to use online classifieds.

"As Newfoundlanders we are a trusting people," says Kennedy. "We need to be cautious over any online transaction, but I don't feel less likely to use Kijiji."

Kennedy is an experienced Kijiji shopper who recently furnished an entire apartment with the site. She has some practical, advice for fellow users.

Kennedy likes to have a friend or family member come with her when she meets a buyer or seller she found online. If no one is available, she might have someone on the phone with her. She explains that she may not hold the phone up to her ear, but will keep it at her side and make sure the friend can hear what is happening.

"I try to never pass the door or let people into my home unless I feel comfortable with them," she adds.

'Trust your instincts'

But Mark Hefferton, another St. John's resident who often uses Kijiji, knows that sometimes things happen unexpectedly.

One time Hefferton left a Kijiji buyer on the front porch of his house and went to get something upstairs. When he came back he found the man had entered his living room uninvited, and was looking around the house.

"Never be too trusting when meeting strangers," cautions Kennedy. "It's always good to be skeptical, and trust your instincts."

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary gave similar advice.

"If you start to feel uneasy, don't ignore it," said RNC Const. Talia Murphy. She advised users of the website to meet in public places, never go alone, and tell a third party when you will return.

"A parking lot is not a meeting place," Murphy adds. "You need to go into the coffee shop or business place."

Most St. John's residents that CBC News spoke to said they were very satisfied with the website overall. They said they like the savings, the items they find, and even benefits to the environment.

"It's the best I've ever used," said Trevor O'Brien who runs an auto detailing business. He has found over half of his clients on Kijiji.

Customers drop their car off to O'Brien for the service, but he said he would not go driving in a car with someone he just met online.