Beware of Stolen Property on Kijiji and Craigslist

It’s not surprising that stolen property is sold on Kijiji or Craigslist, given the apparent lack of scrutiny of non-retail transactions on the Internet.

The Criminal Law Team has some tips for how to buy and how to sell
on Kijiji
to avoid going through a retailer or other established business:


1. Seller beware:

Although it has been suggested that the police regularly look on buy and sell sites for suspected stolen property, it is more accurate to state that police normally advise victims who report property stolen to keep an eye on Kijiji or Craigslist for their property.  In fact, we have defended clients who have been the subject of a “sting operation” wherein the victim reports to police that the stolen item is being offered for sale, and an undercover officer contacts the seller to arrange to “buy” the item, and then arrests the suspect.  If you are someone who uses Craigslist or Kijiji to buy and sell items, you have to make the appropriate inquiries with the seller to satisfy yourself that the item for sale is not property obtained by crime (i.e., stolen property).  Which leads us to #2…

2.  Seller beware redux:  stolen property on kijiji and craigslist

People who make a business out of buying and selling items on Kijiji and the like should be particularly concerned about trafficking in stolen goods.  You cannot turn a blind eye to your suspicions.  Wilful blindness does not afford a defence.

Section 355.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada creates the offence of Trafficking in Property Obtained by Crime (usually, this refers to stolen property).

Section 355.4 also creates the offence of Possession of Property Obtained by Crime- Trafficking.  Although these offences are meant to target persons who engage in the possession and sale of stolen property for a commercial purpose, the language of these sections casts a wide enough net to include persons who innocently (or not) sell property on the one-off, or simply change their mind and decide to sell an item they recently bought.

The penalties will be higher if the judge determines that the accused is “in the business” of buying and selling stolen property.  Either way, the Criminal Code provides for a greater maximum penalty (14 years) for Trafficking or Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking in stolen goods than for the offence, under Section 354, of Possession of Property Obtained by Crime (10 years), resulting in the unavailability of a conditional or absolute discharge if found guilty of the former.

In particular,  those who have a business, even if only casual or part-time, of buying and selling property on these sites, when offered items for sale at less than their retail value, are obligated to satisfy themselves that the seller is the legitimate owner of the property.  Which leads us to #3.

3.  How to determine if the goods you are buying or selling are stolen property.

That’s just it:  you will never know for sure.   If the item is offered for sale at less than retail, especially if the item is new, the greater the price difference between retail and the selling price, the greater your suspicions should be aroused.

Don’t let the thrill of getting a bargain, or making a quick profit, blind you to the realization that it is important to look at all of the circumstances in deciding whether your suspicions have been allayed or heightened.  For instance, aside from safety issues (you should not meet a person alone, unless in a public place), you should meet the seller at their home to see if they appear to be on the “up-and-up”.  Ask for identification, to see if their address matches up.  Ask them how they acquired the property.

For example, many sellers call themselves “distributors”, a vague title for someone who may not want to tell you the source from where they obtained the goods.  The trick here is distinguish between the person who legitimately is selling an item to you because they have grown tired of it and just want to get rid of it- the old couch, used-once item, year or two old electronic device, or the like- and the person who is in the business of selling property on the Internet.  The latter may be legitimate, but they may also wish to remain wilfully blind as to how they acquired the item they are selling to you for so little.  Which brings us to #4- What is wilful blindness?

4.  What is wilful blindness?

Wilful blindness is a legal concept that imputes knowledge to those who intentionally put themselves in a position of remaining unaware, or ignorant, of facts that could expose them to criminal liability.   In the context of stolen property, a person who fails to make inquiries about the nature of property for sale to avoid confirmation of their suspicions is doing so for the purpose of claiming lack of knowledge that the property is stolen.

The important point here is that if you become suspicious, in any way, that property for sale might be stolen, you must make inquiries to satisfy yourself that the property is, in fact, not stolen.  Furthermore, your actions, or lack thereof, may be judged after the fact, so, if the property ends up being stolen, the questions you ask and the answers you are given will be judged by others (police, prosecutors, and judges) at a later date.  You cannot just go through the motions and say that you asked this and that, and therefore were satisfied.  You better be satisfied, and hope that the Judge believes it too.

Have You Been Charged With Possession Of Stolen Property?

At the Criminal Law Team, we will ask the same questions you can expect to be asked by the police, prosecutor, and judge.  If you are arrested, or about to be arrested, it is important that you contact us as soon as possible, so that you do not incriminate yourself by telling the police about the inquiries you made- or didn’t make- before buying stolen property on kijiji or craigslist.  We can tell you whether your explanation to the police is likely to be believed, resulting in the rare instance of the police not proceeding with the charges against you.

We do offer a free consultation.


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