Online ads using Canadian soldier picture, fake story to sell 'vehicles'

An internet scam has been using the photo of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan to try to sell supposed used vehicles.

An internet scam has been using the photo of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan to try to sell supposed used vehicles.

The advertisements, which have been appearing on online free classifieds such as Kijiji and Craigslist, use a photograph of Sgt. Prescott Shipway.

Shipway, 36, died after his armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device during a security patrol in the Panjwaii district of southern Afghanistan on Sept. 7. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry based out of Shilo, Man.

In the advertisements, which have been posted for cities across Canada and in New York state, someone claiming to be the soldier's Montreal-based father indicates they want to sell a vehicle that they allege belonged to Shipway for $6,000.

The name of the soldier has been changed to Sgt. Anderson Shipway Bruce and the type of vehicle being sold changes with the cities — ranging from an Audi, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a Mercedes-Benz, a Mazda  and a Thunderbird — but the story in the advertisement remains the same.

"This will be my gift … in memory of my son," say the ads. "All I want is to find the right person … who'll love and take care of this car in the same way he did. I'd like to make a person very happy and to light a candle for my son once in a while."

Members of Shipway's family told CBC News they are aware of the ads, but that no one in the family is trying to sell any vehicle that belonged to the soldier. His parents, partner and young children live in Saskatchewan.

Cars in the U.S.

Two of the cars listed included a vehicle identification number, which CBC News used to look up their records. It was found the two cars, a Mercedez-Benz and an Audi, were on the lots of dealers in the United States and they have never been imported to Canada.

The Audi was used as a fleet vehicle in Ohio until it was sold to a dealer at an auction in October, making it impossible that it could have ever belonged to Shipway.

CBC News e-mailed the address attached to the ads on Craigslist by the poster. When the poster responded, in a note that near mirrored the text from the advertisements, CBC News was able to trace the e-mail and found it had originated in the United States, not Montreal where the advertisement suggests the seller is based.

Representatives from Kijiji and Craigslist have not responded to calls from CBC News.

Though several cached versions of the advertisements can still be found online, most have been removed or flagged to be deleted. Only a few appeared to still be active on Monday.

Scams common

It is common for scam artists to pair photos of real soldiers, police and firefighters with fake stories, said Larry Gamache, communications director for CARFAX, a company that collects vehicle histories.

"The story is what pulls you in," Gamache said.

The ads are designed to try to get people to blindly send money to the supposed seller, he said.

"They combine motivators for two different things — our desire to get a great deal and our desire to help somebody out."

But in many cases, the alleged vehicle doesn't even exist, he said. "The car is just the bait."

'So disrespectful'

Shipway's partner, DeeDee Kaczmar, said she has known about the ads for about two weeks and it's hurtful her deceased partner is being exploited.

"You know we're still going through a hard time ... to see people do this kind of stuff just adds to that," Kaczmar said.

"It amazes me the lengths people will go to to make a buck. It's sad, it's very sad … I don't even know how they even have a conscience to do something so disrespectful," she said.

Though the family is aware of the ads and upset by them, they are trying to put the death and now Shipway's exploitation behind them and have not yet filed a complaint with police, she said.

But she added, "I don't want to see a scam like this successful."

The Department of National Defence declined to comment on if it was aware of other families who have lost a loved one having similar experiences.

Check safety sections

Both Kijiji and Craigslist provide a written safety section that advises users on how to avoid scams, and provides contact information for law enforcement agencies in Canada and the United States.

The removal of ads is mostly self-regulated, with users given options to report suspected abuse or scams for the classified companies to review.

Reporting Economic Crime Online, a partnership between federal and provincial law enforcement agencies that deals with online scams and frauds, including internet auctions and classifieds, did not immediately respond to interview requests.

According to the Reporting Economic Crime Online website, people using online auctions and classifieds should:

  • Deal with local companies and individuals with a known reputation.
  • Not conduct business with a company or individual that doesn't appear to have a physical address
  • Sign a contract with a clear understanding of delivery options, return policies and warranties.
  • Ensure transactions are secure and never just give out personal financial information.