Scams to watch out for during the holiday season

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It’s the season for spreading love and cheer! Everyone’s busy shopping and making plans to celebrate. In fact, spending is still expected to increase despite inflation. With everyone in a spending mood, scammers are bound to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers.

Online shopping/online fraud

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. 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. This includes phishing attacks, malware, fraud, and hacked accounts. Of the 42% who have experienced an incident, around 13% reported financial loss. With online sales predicted to go up, we need to be careful with our online transactions.

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:

  1. Fake order confirmations – This is an email saying 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 cancel the order. Clicking the link embeds computer malware. It can gather your personal information which they then use to steal money from you. Lesson of the day: Never click links in unsolicited emails.
  2. 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 may have an attached virus. It can also lead you to a page where you have to provide account details. If you are expecting a delivery, go directly to the merchant or courier’s website to verify. Never do it through an email link.
  3. Cloned websites – People are led to these sites by clicking special offers or coupons for free items. The website will look like a trusted merchant site. In order to get the free item, it will ask for your account name and password. This will allow the scammer to open your account and make 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. Better yet, check online if the company you’re buying from has been involved in a scam (type “name of the product/company + scam”).
  4. Porch pirates – Package thieves are on the rise this season looking around for deliveries left on porches. If you will not be home to receive an order, choose a delivery option like hub lockers (Amazon has these facilities at various locations). 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

Check gift cards before buying. Scammers can copy the code from cards, scratch off the coverings above the PIN, then return them to their packaging. It’s safer to ask the cashier for gift cards stored behind their counter 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 (again, please make sure that you’re on the right website).

Meanwhile, fake solicitations could come as emails or calls from “charities”. They could also be dramatic social media posts that urge you to contribute to a GoFundMe page, or even door-to-door “volunteers” who convince you to give. Don’t be pressured to donate. Saying no will not make you a bad person. Part of mindful giving is learning more about the organization or cause before donating. When you’re ready, go directly to the organization’s site to donate.

Seasonal jobs

These schemes target those 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:

  1. 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.
  2. The job title is vague and there is no job description.
  3. The job ad is poorly written. It has a lot of spelling and grammatical errors.
  4. 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.
  5. You’re hired right away with no interview.
  6. Payment is needed before being hired. You’ll be asked to “invest” in products or pay for training before being hired.
  7. They ask for personal information including SIN before you’re hired.
  8. 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 real or a scam for more safety tips.
Article updated November 24, 2023.

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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Community Resources

For more tips, read Scams to watch out for during the holiday season 2.

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