Edmonton police warn of identity theft and fraud risk in online cannabis sales

| Staff

Edmonton police are warning the public of a “concerning” trend of personal information gathering by illicit cannabis sellers. 

A press release today from the Edmonton Drug and Gang Enforcement (EDGE) Unit says that ongoing investigations into Edmonton-area organized crime networks revealed that many illicit online cannabis stores are requiring buyers to submit sensitive personal information in order to verify their identity.

“In most transactions, the sellers request photographs of the prospective buyer’s government ID, a photo of the buyer holding that ID, and another piece of documentation such as a utility bill, which contains the buyer’s address. Buyers are not aware that their personal information is often distributed through criminal networks, placing them at high risk of identity theft and fraud,” notes the press release.

According to Edmonton police, 15 people involved in organized crime networks have been arrested for Cannabis Act and Controlled Drug and Substances Act contraventions in 2021, along with some weapons-related charges.

During these arrests, police say they have found hundreds of text messages containing images of customer IDs. Some of the individuals arrested also had recent criminal charges or convictions for identity theft, break and enter, fraud under $5,000, credit card fraud, and possession of stolen property.

“What’s concerning about this is that unsuspecting buyers are handing over their personal information to people who have criminal connections and, in some cases, convictions related to identity theft and fraud,” says S/Sgt David Paton, EPS EDGE Section. “Being in possession of illicit cannabis could result in criminal charges, but being a victim of identity theft should also be a very real concern, given the devastating financial and personal cost of this crime.”

In Alberta, the AGLC is the only place people can purchase cannabis online legally, although legislation was recently tabled that, if passed, would move those sales away from the AGLC to provincially-licensed private cannabis stores.

Edmonton Police Services have a website to help people better identify unlicensed online cannabis stores.

In 2020, Edmonton Police announced they had seized the domain of more than 100 illicit cannabis stores, although many consumers noted these same businesses continued doing business by just changing their hosting service.

Recently, police in Ontario noted they had shifted much of their cannabis-related enforcement to more than 1,000 illicit online cannabis stores, often commonly referred to as MOMs for Mail Order Marijuana.

Some of the images found on the cell phones of the accused. Buyers are asked to submit photos of themselves holding their ID. Image via Edmonton Police Services