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How to avoid fraud and scams this holiday season

While scams targeting online holiday shoppers are common, you can avoid fraud and shop online safely with the right insight.

By ATB Financial 8 December 2022 5 min read

According to research done by TransUnion, 54% of shoppers are concerned with being victimized by fraud this holiday season—a 17% increase from 2021. While fraud and scams do intensify around the holidays, you can confidently enjoy the holiday season and protect your (and your loved one’s) personal information with the right knowledge.


1. Look out for fake retail websites

Fraudsters will create fake retail websites that mimic legitimate retailer sites. The differences can be subtle, so it’s important to know what to look for.

Kristen Foran, Director, Fraud & Risk Management, ATB Financia

Don’t try to make a purchase on a suspicious website. If something doesn’t seem right, leave the site and restart your search.


2. Prevent gift card scams

If you see a gift card for sale online at a reduced price or for free, it’s likely a scam. People will use social media, fake websites and sites like Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace to sell used or empty gift cards. If you’re purchasing a gift card online, buy it directly from a retailer. Make sure you get a receipt, so you can dispute it if there is an issue.

Think of gift cards like cash—once they’re exchanged, it’s unlikely that you’re getting your money back. No legitimate business or organization—like the CRA or your financial institution—will request gift cards as payment over the phone, email or text.


3. Protect your data from shipping notification scams

“Shipping scams are easy to get caught up in during the holiday season, especially if you shop for gifts online and are expecting packages,” said Foran. 

“This scam comes in the form of an email or SMS from someone claiming to be a reputable shipping company like Canada Post or UPS. They will send you a link to track your order or pay a shipping fee, this link can be used to obtain your payment information or deliver malware to your device. Always think twice before clicking a link from a shipping company when you've already paid for a service.”

Using these kinds of scams, fraudsters can obtain credit card information, passwords, personal information and other data. 

Always keep track of your online orders. Write down your order confirmation numbers and tracking numbers. If you get an email or text message and the numbers don’t match, it’s a scam.


4. Job scams increase over the holiday season

During the holidays, it’s common for people to look for ways to earn extra income. In a job scam, a person might think they’ve been hired to shop or wrap gifts. Usually, the “employer” will require the worker to send back some money. Sometimes they’ll ask to deposit money into your account, then withdraw it to spend on something or send it somewhere. A job scam could be providing a false employer with personal information.

If you’re applying for jobs this season, make sure you trust the websites you’re using. Do your research on each company you apply for to make sure they’re legitimate.


5. Only donate to registered charities

Fraudsters take advantage of the increased acts of generosity over the holidays. Before donating to a new charity, check that the organization is registered with the government. The Government of Canada provides a list of charities—do a quick search and make sure it’s a legitimate organization before you send your money.


6. Be aware when shopping online or on social platforms

Social media shopping scams are prevalent during the holiday season. If you see a valuable item available for well below its market price, be mindful. There’s a good chance the item is counterfeit or the seller isn’t being honest about what you’ll receive.

You may have noticed multiple gift exchange or “Secret Santa” posts on your social media feeds—it seems like you only have to send one gift while receiving multiple in return. Unfortunately, this exchange collects your personal information and conceals a pyramid scheme, where only those on the top profit. Pyramid schemes are illegal in Canada. 

Avoid fraud by keeping any gift exchanges in-person, and between trusted friends, family and coworkers.


7. Businesses be wary

If you run a business, be suspicious of customers offering to pay more than the asking price. When selling goods and services online, always confirm that you’ve received a legitimate payment before you send the product or provide the service.

Be aware of fraudulent communications with suppliers. If you receive messaging from who you believe to be a supplier asking to update payment account information, verbally confirm these requests by calling the vendor directly through a known phone number.

"Fraudsters will try anything to get away with money. If you are interacting with someone you don't know personally and they make you an offer that seems too good to be true, chances are it is. Always make an effort to verify a business or person before you transact with them."

Kristen Foran

Fraud & Risk Management, ATB Financial

More tips for protection from holiday scams

Here are some extra tips to help you avoid holiday scams and protect your data. 


Video: Watch this video where we define phishing, vishing, and smishing scams and go over how to prevent them.

Ensure security

  • Set up two-factor authentication on all your online accounts.
  • Set up auto-deposit for e-transfers. Auto-deposit eliminates the opportunity for a scammer to intercept an email and redirect the deposit to another bank.
  • When shopping or donating online, look for the little padlock icon on your browser next to the search bar. You should also see https:// in the website address. These indicate that the site is secure.
  • Install and regularly update anti-virus and malware software on all your devices.

Protect your data

  • Never enter personal information that isn’t relevant to the purchase you’re making. Question when a website asks for information like your social insurance number or online banking password.
  • Never save your credit card or payment information on a retailer’s website. Enter it each time you make a purchase.
  • Don’t click on links in an email or text message from an unknown sender.

Read terms and conditions

  • Review the terms and conditions when making online purchases.
  • Make sure you aren’t unknowingly signing a contract for an on-going subscription to a product or service.
  • Confirm that your email or phone number will not be added to a list or shared with third-parties.
  • Check that the warranty is fair and not limited.

For more information, check the government’s website to learn about recent frauds and scams, and what to do if you experience fraud. You can also learn more about the top scams to look out for.

Your best defence against holiday scams is education. Look out for potential warning signs of fraud and do your research while shopping online to enjoy peace of mind this holiday season.

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