The administrator of a Winnipeg-based peer-to-peer buy-and-sell group says online sites like his are increasingly becoming hot spots for thieves looking to quickly unload their stolen goods.
And as rampant shoplifting continues to make headlines in Winnipeg, Ryan Kochie says those responsible for the crime are getting more and more brazen online.
Some are even taking orders, he says.
“People are doing it almost like a side business for themselves,” said Kochie, who has helped run the Winnipeg Buy/Sell Facebook group for the last two years.
“It’s not so much like they’re stealing things for them to use, they’re stealing it to sell and some people are doing it for a profit … to pay bills or whatever.”
Numbers from Winnipeg police show the city saw a 77 per cent increase in the theft of store merchandise under $5,000 last year.
While shoplifting at city liquor stores has garnered the most attention recently, grocery stores, clothing stores and drug stores are also popular targets for thieves.
Kochie says items stolen from those stores — everything from makeup and baby formula to dish soap and Tide Pods — are turning up for sale online at deep discounts.
“You think someone’s just selling for cheap, but chances are they’re just making money for nothing,” he said.
Kochie says he’s seen a marked decrease in thieves using his site to fence items since the group implemented strict rules to curb such behaviour over the last year or so.
Those rules include asking sellers to provide proof of purchase for suspicious items and banning users who can’t produce receipts.
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But he says thieves can easily find buyers on other sites and pages without the same rules.
He says sites like Facebook Marketplace — which he says doesn’t have administrators like himself watching for suspicious items — are becoming a popular alternative for shady sellers.
A spokesperson for Facebook says the company does not allow the promotion or sale of stolen items and posts will be removed if something is reported that is found to violate the company’s community standards policy.
But Kochie says Facebook isn’t going far enough.
“There’s no admin really, Facebook just cares about illegal goods, like if you try to sell drugs or alcohol on there, it’ll get removed,” he said, adding Marketplace does not allow users to comment on items, making it harder to report or bring attention to suspicious items.
“Crowdsourcing (suspicious items) definitely makes it easier to monitor — it’s just the community watching out for its own.”
Winnipeg police spokesperson Const. Tammy Skrabek says investigators often search online for stolen goods, and warns that knowingly buying stolen goods can lead to charges for the buyer.
While Kochie says investigators have never reached out to him looking for stolen goods, he encourages users to tag or share things with police if they think they might be stolen.
He also says buyers need to use common sense when shopping for used items online.
“Just ask them where they got it, and if they get super offended or if they refuse to say, then chances are it’s probably stolen from somewhere,” he said.
“Generally, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
-With files from Brittany Greenslade
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