Websites such as Kijiji and Craigslist have become the go-to classified sections for Canadians, gaining immense popularity in recent years and changing how people sell their unwanted items and even how they shop for the things they need.

As a result of the massive change, new precautions are necessary to ensure we interact safely and securely online, says Det. Sgt. Glenn Gervais of the Windsor Police.

That point came into sharp relief recently after Hamilton police announced Tim Bosma, an Ancaster, Ont. man, had disappeared after taking two men for a test drive in the truck he was selling online. Police announced Tuesday that Bosma's charred remains had been found in a field.

Gervais said the case serves as a reminder to take precautions when interacting with potential buyers.

"It's that one or two per cent out there that maybe they're coming to look at your couch, but maybe they’re also coming to size up your house," he told CTV.

Gervais offered the following safety tips for anyone selling an item online:

  • Meet in a public place: Whether it is a coffee shop, restaurant, parking lot, or even the mall -- it's always best to meet the buyer in a public place, ideally one that is under video surveillance. If it's not necessary, don't invite them to your home, he said.
  • The seller should be in full control of the situation: It's up to the seller to choose the location and the protocol -- not the buyer, Gervais said: "The buyer should never dictate, the buyer should never tell you to go to a different location than you've chosen, and the buyer should never leave that location."
  • Get as much information as possible: Gervais said sellers should always arrange to speak with the potential buyer over the phone ahead of the meet up. If they seem suspicious, walk away. As an added precaution, write down their licence plate number when they arrive at the meeting point, he said.

Lisa Jacques, a Windsor, Ont. resident who often does her shopping on classified websites, said she's exercising more caution than in the past -- largely because of tragic stories like Bosma's.

"There's always someone I tell, or someone is at my house, or I inform somebody because it makes me feel a little safer," she said.

Kijiji, which claims to be Canada's most popular classified site with 5,000 new ads posted every hour, says that's a good rule to follow, along with Gervais' advice about meeting in a public place.

"From time to time we do receive reports of people attempting to scam or defraud our users," Kijiji says in an article on the website.

"When buying or selling, you should meet in-person to see the product and exchange funds. Meet in a public place with many people around, such as a coffee shop."

Kijiji also recommends that deals always be done with cash, rather than with a cheque or through a digital payment service which can be easily faked.

"While these sites can be very useful and secure, typically scammers are only pretending to use them and will even go so far as to falsify documents 'from' a legitimate company," the website says.

Users are also advised to never give out personal banking information, and finally, to use common sense.

"If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is," the article states.

Craigslist offers similar advice to users. On its website, the company says "the overwhelming majority of craigslist users are trustworthy and well-intentioned," but that it's still important to take common sense precautions when doing business online.

Craigslist suggests sellers and buyers avoid secluded meeting places and insist on a public setting, like a cafe. Additionally, tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you plan to be back, and consider taking a friend with you, the site suggests.

Most of all, Craigslist says, trust your instincts. If the situation doesn't feel right, walk away.

The safety concerns surrounding informal transactions aren’t limited to Canada.

In some U.S. states, a rash of violent crimes associated with online sites prompted police to advise buyers and sellers to meet in police station parking lots to conduct their transactions.