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The e-commerce giant maintains that protecting the privacy of its customers is a “priority” and says it has launched an internal investigation.

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Customer information from Amazon in plain sight.

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Shipping labels containing the personal information of Amazon customers in particular had not been removed from the packaging of around thirty products in sale in two liquidation stores in the Greater Toronto Area during the CBC/Radio-Canada visit.

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Items returned to Amazon are were found on the shelves of a liquidation store in the Greater Toronto Area without anyone bothering to remove the shipping labels.

The name, full address and sometimes telephone number of the original buyer were left in plain sight at Top Binz stores in Scarborough, east of Toronto.

First informed by a concerned customer of the company, CBC/Radio-Canada found around thirty shipping labels, two-thirds in the name of Amazon , among the items displayed pell-mell in two businesses in this chain which promises treasures at low prices.

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In Top Binz stores, customers rummage through all kinds of consumer products and try to find deals. The shelves are restocked once a week and the products are all sold at a fixed price which drops every day: $20 per item on Friday, $15 on Saturday, $11 on Sunday, etc.

To discover that I am returning items and that my personal information is exposed, it's shocking, says Theresa Coppens, contacted at the telephone number which appeared on a label found in the 'one of the stores.

Top Binz, which operates three branches in the Greater Toronto Area, purchases batches of returned items as well as excess inventory from Amazon and other retailers through distributors. The company then resells these products at a low price.

Arthur Stewart, an Amazon customer, said he was surprised and concerned to know that his address and telephone number were found on the packaging of an item for sale in a store he had never heard of.

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If the fact that Amazon resells the returned products leaves him indifferent, he worries that his personal information could have fallen into the hands of fraudsters.

When phone numbers or email addresses are revealed, it opens the door to scammers and phishers who can exploit this information

A quote from Arthur Stewart, Amazon customer

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In 2022, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center received a total of 70,878 reports. The organization estimates that fraud reported to the authorities only represents 5 to 10% of cases. (Stock image)

By email, an Amazon spokesperson maintains that the company expects its partners to remove its customers' personal information before any resale.

We are disappointed to learn that this might not be the case, writes Barbara Agrait.

For its part, Top Binz assures that all shipping labels will henceforth be removed from its products.

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's former privacy commissioner, is amazed that products purchased online could change hands multiple times and end up in a clearance store with shipping labels still visible.

Everyone should know that in this day and age, revealing personal information without consent – ​​which is obviously the case here – can cause incredible harm to those targeted, says the now executive director of the Global Privacy and Security by Design Center .

Ms. Cavoukian mentions in particular the risk of identity theft, a type of widespread fraud that can be orchestrated with very little information, according to her.

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Former Privacy Commissioner Ontario Ann Cavoukian is stunned that customers' personal information is visible. (Archive photo).

Theresa Coppens, whose address and telephone number had been left in plain sight, said she had heard many horror stories linked to the theft of identify. She explains that she takes great care in protecting her personal information.

When I throw something away, even Amazon envelopes, I tear off the label and burn it or tear it into small pieces before throwing it in the trash

A quote from Theresa Coppens

Concerned, Ms. Coppens cannot explain how no one could have removed the shipping labels from a product before reselling it.< /p>

The situation doesn't come as much of a surprise to Omar Fares, a lecturer in retail management at Toronto Metropolitan University's Ted Rogers School, given the operational efficiency goals of the electrical retail giants. p>

E-commerce companies, like Amazon, have to deal with huge quantities of returned products, Fares said.

There is little data to measure the extent of the phenomenon in Canada. In the United States, however, the National Retail Federation estimated that in 2022, American consumers returned 16.5% of all purchases made online, or $212 billion in merchandise.

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Retail management lecturer Omar Fares says product returns are a headache for e-commerce giants. (Stock image)

Restocking these products and attempting to resell them is a costly process for retailers who sometimes decide to liquidate them in bulk , says the retail expert.

To limit operation costs, these companies seek to process returned items with as little handling as possible.

Every hand that touches the product is a financial loss

A quote from Omar Fares, lecturer at Toronto Metropolitan University

Clearance stores face the same efficiency pressures. Amjad Atieh, the owner of Top Binz, says he buys 60,000 to 80,000 products per week from two distributors who buy directly from major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Costco.

Mr. Atieh says he resells the products in the condition in which he receives them from his suppliers, whom he preferred not to name.

Questioned by CBC/Radio-Canada, the owner of Top Binz maintains that he was not aware that the presence of shipping labels in his stores could be a source of concern.

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Top Binz stores in the GTA resell products that Amazon customers have returned to the company.

I can increase my staff by one or two people so that they can open all the boxes and remove the labels, Mr. Atieh concedes. He assures that from now on no shipping labels will be visible in his stores, except by mistake.

Mr. Stewart, one of the Amazon customers whose personal information was exposed, is not happy with this solution.

I don't think that it is the responsibility of the reseller [to protect this information]. I think it's that of large retailers, like Amazon, he insists.

In response to questions from CBC/Radio-Canada, Amazon said it only provides packages to reputable liquidators and that their contracts require them to remove customers' personal information before reselling packages to third parties.

Unlike Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, Ontario does not have a provincial law governing the protection of personal information by private companies. These are therefore subject to federal legislation and the surveillance of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

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Amazon says it does not have direct business ties with clearance stores like Top Binz. (Archive image)

Without having investigated the practices of the e-commerce giant, the Office indicates by email that organizations subject to federal law must obtain the consent of the individuals concerned before communicating personal information to a third party.

They are also responsible for the personal information they have in their possession or in their custody, including information entrusted to a third party, adds Vito Pilieci, a door -spokesperson for the organization.

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He notes, however, that companies can fulfill their obligations by signing contracts with their partners that guarantee the confidentiality and security of their customers' personal information.

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Philippe Dufresne is Canada's Privacy Commissioner. The organization's mandate is to enforce the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. (Archive image)

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We must count on the goodwill of companies, which is often lacking, Ms. Cavoukian is indignant.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada says it will contact Amazon to gather more information on how the company handles packages returned to it.

With information from CBC's Ryan Jones

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