If you’re looking to buy cannabis online, you should do your research, a customer protection group warns.

Karla Laird, the manager of community and public relations for the Better Business Bureau serving Mainland British Columbia, said it has received reports that a company claiming to operate out of New Westminster, Canadian Hemp Co., has taken payment for cannabis but either has not shipped the product or sent something different than what was ordered. Meanwhile, another Canadian was scammed by Hello Ganja, which claims to be based in Fort Worth, Tex.

Laird advises customers to carefully research websites to ensure they’re legit before proceeding.

“One of the challenges when it comes to the cannabis industry is customers not having extensive knowledge about the industry,” she said. “Also, because of the times that we’re living in, consumers are now having to either be more open minded or actively engaged in online activity, so in this case, making purchases online. They haven’t really grasped the importance of doing your due diligence, doing your research before you go on a website, see something you like and make a purchase.

“Anyone can fabricate a website. Anyone can impersonate a legitimate website.”

Laird said when this happens, customers lose their money and give away personal financial information to an untrustworthy source. In cases where a customer receives a product they are consuming or smoking, there are safety concerns involved.

“You want to know that whatever it is you’re buying and whomever it is you’re buying from, they can be held accountable for what you receive,” she said. 

Laird added that those purchasing cannabis online should follow the same basic set of rules for any orders made over the internet: look for proper spelling and grammar; test for broken links, especially those purportedly linking to a social media page; and on the checkout page, ensure that the currency is Canadian dollars as opposed to foreign or cryptocurrency, that taxes are included, and that if there’s a discount compared to the normal purchase price, it’s an amount that’s not too good to be true.

“How much of a discount is it in comparison to other websites that you know of?” she said.

As well, she said, if there’s an address listed on the website, especially when it is supposedly a storefront, double check that it’s located in a commercial area, as scammers commonly list residential addresses on their sites. 

“Many scammers have been stealing addresses from residential areas, from vacant houses, from vacant lots, and put it on their website to give them some legitimacy,” she said. “You see an address and think, ‘Oh, it’s in the area, or it’s in the province or it’s in the country, so I can trust this website,’ but that’s not something you should use as a telltale sign of trust.”

Laird recommends using a credit card for all online purchases, as consumers have more recourse and protections, and she said a debit card can grant scammers “direct access to the account itself,” she said.

Upon learning of the scams, Kostya De, manager of Pemberton’s GP Cannabis, was disappointed for the consumers.

“It’s unfortunate that this is happening in Canada, that there are companies that scam people, taking people’s money and not shipping their product,” he said. 

In terms of his own business, De said there haven’t been too many challenges since kicking off operations last December.

There’s been the odd stock interruption for specific products from the wholesaler, but supplies have generally been solid. “It’s not like the liquor store where you can get the same product all the time,” he said. 

Advertising has been difficult, too, as online hosts and print publications, including Pique, navigate a stringent set of rules.

“Not many people in Whistler know that a legal cannabis store exists in Pemberton,” he said. 

The business also got a boost in June when the Village of Pemberton voted to relax its cannabis retail regulations. The initial set of rules required two staff members be onsite at all times, but the business demonstrated that only one was needed.

“One budtender is more than enough,” he said. “You’re saving quite a lot of money by not having two people.”

De said while customers can’t currently order online, they can view a menu and reserve products for in-store pickup. He anticipates being able to sell online and ship directly to customers “in the near future.”

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