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How to avoid fraud and scams this holiday season

By ATB Financial 24 November 2020 5 min read

Unfortunately, frauds and scams targeting shoppers are more common during the holidays. Because of COVID-19, more people than ever before are choosing to do their Christmas shopping online. This surge in online shopping and activity increases opportunities for scammers and Christmas fraud.

There are already COVID-19 scams out there, in addition to the expected holiday scams. This year, consumers must use extra caution as they turn to the internet for their holiday shopping. Here are some tips for avoiding fraud and online shopping scams.

1. Look out for fake retail websites.

Fraudsters will create fake retail websites that nearly mimic legitimate retailer sites. The differences can be subtle, so it’s important to know what to look for.
“They can mirror a real website very closely, but there will be differences. Any spelling or grammar errors or a slightly different spelling of the retailer’s name or products are all signs the website could be fake,” said Noella Winterholt, Senior Manager, EFS Losses, EFS Integrity Governance and Risk Management, ATB Financial.

Do not attempt to make a purchase on a suspicious website. If something doesn’t seem right, exit the site and restart your search.

2. Beware of gift card scams.

If you see a gift card posted for sale at a reduced price or even for free, it’s most 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 can get a receipt, so you can dispute it if there is an issue.

3. Protect your data from shipping notification scams.

“Shipping scams are when you get an email notification from Purolator or Amazon saying that an order has been shipped. It will ask you to click on a link to view or track the order. This is a phishing scam,” said Winterholt. “Clicking on the link could allow fraudsters to put malware on your computer, or induce you to provide personal information.”

These kinds of scams 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 it doesn’t match, it’s a scam.

4. Job scams ramp up over the holiday season.

Over the holidays, it’s not uncommon for people to look for ways to earn extra income. For example, 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 and then withdraw it to spend on something or send it somewhere. Sometimes 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. Donate only to registered charities.

Fraudsters, sadly, will take advantage of the spirit of giving over the holidays. Before donating to a new charity this year, please do your due diligence to make sure it’s not Christmas fraud. Check that the organization is registered with the government before you give. The Government of Canada provides a list of charities. Do a quick search and make sure it’s a legitimate charity before you send your money.

ATB Cares is also a trustworthy resource for finding registered charities in Alberta to donate to this holiday season.

6. Use caution when shopping online or on social platforms.

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

More tips to help you protect yourself from holiday scams.

“Fraudsters and scammers are looking for any way to make money from you. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Being aware of the potential risks can help you protect yourself,” advises Winterholt.

Here are some extra tips to help you avoid Christmas shopping scams and protect your data. You can also read more tips to protect yourself from scams and fraud.

Ensure security

  • Sign up for 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 things indicate the site is secure.
  • Install and regularly update anti-virus and malware software on all your devices.

Protect your data

  • Never enter personal information like your date of birth, names and especially your social insurance number, when shopping online. All a vendor needs for a safe online transaction is a shipping and billing address and your credit card information.
  • 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 that is 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’ve become a victim of fraud.

Your best defence against holiday scams is education. Keep your eyes out for potential warning signs of fraud and do your research while shopping online this Christmas.

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