The disappearance and alleged murder of Tim Bosma has highlighted the alarming phenomenon of predators using online classified ads sites to stalk their victims.
In the case of Bosma — whose charred remains were found by police on Tuesday, eight days after he disappeared from his Hamilton, Ont., home — that classified ad site was reportedly Kijiji, an alternative to Craigslist that’s popular in Canada and a handful of other countries.
Sensing a potential public relations disaster, Kijiji has been releasing statements offering condolences to Bosma’s family and friends. But the website now says it had nothing to do with the man’s disappearance.
“We confirmed to the police that the ad posted by Mr. Bosma on Kijiji did not feature personal contact information, nor did it receive any replies, which determines the incident did not occur as result of his ad posting on Kijiji,” the company stated.
If a seller on Kijiji does not display contact info, buyers can reach them via Kijiji itself. The company said no one tried to contact Bosma through its service.
News reports have repeatedly stated that Bosma, 32, vanished from his home while taking two men out for a test drive in the 2007 Dodge Ram pickup truck he was trying to sell on Kijiji. But it now looks likely that Bosma advertised the truck elsewhere as well.
Despite its efforts to distance itself from the incident, Kijiji has posted advice to its website on how to stay safe when buying and selling online.
“Meet in a public place with many people around, such as a coffee shop,” the company advises, adding that Kijij users should “not give out personal or banking information (e.g. social insurance number, bank account number) over the internet.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Dellen Millard of Toronto has been charged with Bosma’s death, and remains in police custody.
His name is only the latest on a growing list of alleged “Craiglist killers” who have gained notoriety over accusations they used online classified sites to find victims.
The court found Richard Beasley guilty of teaming up with a teenager in 2011 to lure job-seekers onto a farm in southeast Ohio in order to rob them. Three of the robbery victims died, and a fourth testified against Beasley in court.
In one of the most famous cases, med student Philip Markoff was charged in 2009 with the death of Julissa Brisman in a Boston hotel room, on top of charges of armed robbery involving other females.
Markoff was among the first suspects to be dubbed a “Craiglist killer,” because he allegedly used the online service to contact women offering erotic services, whom he would then attack. He took his own life in 2010.
While Kijiji’s advice is to meet buyers and sellers in open, public spaces, others suggest stricter rules for engaging in online buying and selling. Some advise buyers to stay away entirely from services advertised online, such as gardening and erotic services.
“It isn’t safe,” Examiner.com exhorts. “There are other ways to find people in your community who can help you.”
Steve Tissenbaum, a retail management prof at Ryerson University, told the Toronto Star you should always take a friend when meeting with someone you met through an online ad.
“You don’t go if you don’t have a friend,” he said. “It’s as simple as that."
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