It’s the season for giving and spreading love and cheer! Everyone’s busy making lists, shopping and making plans to celebrate even during the pandemic. In fact, spending is still expected to increase despite restrictions on gatherings or travel. With everyone in a spending mood, scammers are bound to take advantage of many unsuspecting consumers.
Online shopping/online fraud
It is not surprising that e-commerce is up with more people staying at home (and on their computers) due to COVID restrictions. Statistics Canada reports that online sales have more than doubled during the pandemic, with online purchases up by more than 110.8% in the period (Online shopping has doubled during the pandemic, Statistics Canada says). However, this is not the only thing that’s up. Statcan also reports that over four in 10 Canadians (42%) have experienced at least one type of cyber security incident since the beginning of the pandemic including phishing attacks, malware, fraud and hacked accounts. Of the 42%, around 13% reported financial loss (Statistics Canada).
How to protect yourself from scams
Did you know that if you are aware of these schemes, you are 80% less likely to be scammed? An informed consumer is a wise consumer. Here are the most common scams to avoid:
- Fake order confirmations – This is an email telling you that your order is confirmed even if you didn’t order anything. There will be a link in the email that will allow you to dispute or cancel the order. What you don’t know is that clicking the link can embed computer malware or gather your personal or bank information which they then use to steal money from you. The lesson of the day: Never click links in unsolicited emails.
- Fake shipping notices – This will look like an email from UPS, FedEx or Canada Post telling you that the shipment of your order is delayed. There will be a link to enable you to track the package. Again, just like fake shipping notices, the link will have an attached virus or require you to provide account details. If you are expecting a delivery, go directly to the merchant or courier’s website to verify – not through an email link.
- Cloned websites – People are usually led to these sites by clicking special offers or coupons for free items. The website will look like the website of a merchant you know and trust. It will ask you to put in your account name and password to get the discount or free item. When you do this, the scammer will be given access to your account to make unauthorized purchases. The best practice is to always check the URL or website address. Stay away if it does not have “https” or the padlock icon.
- Porch pirates – This is a scam in real life. Package swipers are on the rise this season trolling neighbourhoods for deliveries left on porches. If you will not be home to receive your order, choose a delivery option like hub lockers at various locations (Amazon has this) and just pick up your package from the one nearest you. You can also choose to have it delivered to your workplace or to a friend’s house if they will be at home.
Read Thinking of online shopping? Here’s how to stay safe for more tips.
Gift cards and solicitations
If you intend to give out gift cards this year, check each one thoroughly before buying. Make sure to check for signs of tampering. Scammers have been known to copy the code from cards, scratch off the coverings above the PIN then return them to their packaging. You will be better off asking the cashier for gift cards stored behind their counter instead of those displayed out in the open at groceries or department stores. You can also buy gift cards online directly from retailers, chain restaurants and other merchants especially if you’re buying a high-value gift card (please consider patronizing local businesses).
Another scheme generous people should watch out for are bogus solicitations. These could be emails or calls from fake charities asking for donations, social media posts tugging at your heartstrings to urge you to contribute to a GoFundMe page, or door-to-door “volunteers” who convince you to give. First of all, never be pressured to donate. Saying no will not make you a bad person. Part of mindful giving is taking the time to learn more about the organization or cause before supporting it. When you’re ready, go directly to the organization’s site to donate. Likewise, know who the organizer/solicitor is before donating money to crowdfunding efforts.
These schemes prey on people who are looking for extra money during the holidays. While there are real part-time holiday jobs, watch out for these red flags when looking for online or seasonal work:
- The job offer came via email saying that they found your resume from a job search website but they don’t address you by name.
- The job title is vague and there is no job description.
- The job ad is poorly written. It has a lot of spelling and grammatical errors.
- The offer sounds too good to be true. It’s either the salary is too high for the position or the perks are over the top (free trips, gift cards, gadgets, etc.) or both.
- You’re hired right away with no interview.
- Payment is needed before being hired. You’ll be asked to “invest” in products or pay for training before being hired.
- They ask for personal information including SIN before you’re hired.
- There is an unusual payment scheme. Salary is paid either by crypto currency (bitcoins), wire transfer, gift or prepaid cards.
Jobseekers are advised to use legitimate job search sites where only verified employers are allowed to view the listings (check if they have privacy policies). Also, conduct research on the employer by making a Google or BBB search. Never give out personal and bank information before you have the job offer. Read Looking for a work from home job? Here’s how to know if it’s read or a scam for more safety tips.
Sources: The 12 frauds of Christmas: Fraud prevention during the holiday season, Bill Stephenson, CPA, CMA; 10 online shopping scams to avoid this holiday season, Maryalene LaPonsie, US News; How to avoid gift card scams, Bree Fowler, CR; BBB Tip: Avoiding job scams this holiday season, Better Business Bureau. Accessed November 17, 2020.
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