Holiday | Fraud

Be on the lookout for these 4 holiday shopping scams

From fake retail websites to delivery package theft, protect yourself from falling victim to fraud this season

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Illustrated graphic of gift box in centre of bear trapAccording to a recent FedEx survey, which questioned 1,500 Canadians, one in four respondents claimed to have had a package stolen, with 70 per cent of those surveyed saying they were worried about it

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for scammers, who are ready and waiting to take advantage of frantic shoppers desperate to get the best deals and “it” gifts this season.

As you visit your favourite retailer websites and stores this Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you could be a click or tap away from a scam, warn experts. 

“Organized crime really looks forward to this time of year,” says Claudiu Popa, a certified security and privacy risk advisor, and CEO of Informatica Corporation, a Canadian cybersecurity consulting firm. “They plan for it well ahead of time.”

To avoid being duped, be aware of these four trending scams. 

1) FAKE WEBSITES

Cyber criminals are masters at website replication matching retailer branding and logos, even URLs, says Popa. It’s not enough anymore to check for the SSL certification (HTTPS) in your browser’s search bar—you need to be extra vigilant that you are visiting an authentic site, he says. 

“[Hackers] are stealing certification, applying for it, registering their own domain names, and the rest are hijacking other websites,” he says. “We are getting to a point where people can no longer trust previous tips that we have used for the last few years.”

Beyond replicating sites, cyber criminals post fake, or counterfeit products, on retailer sites such as Amazon, Kijiji and eBay; and also create phoney websites advertising in-demand products. They tap into holiday shoppers’ vulnerabilities including urgency and distractedness that come with the holiday rush, adds Patrick McKeen, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau, Central Ontario. 

“All scams tend to target vulnerable people,” he says. “It just expands when people are busy with lots going on,” he says. “They are more vulnerable because they are desperate or distracted. It’s an easy shortcut [for hackers].” 

FRAUD PREVENTION TIPS:

  • Ensure you’re visiting a reputable retailer’s site, don’t be taken in by deals, and do your research to determine whether a price, website, or company is legitimate.
  • The above applies for neighbourhood pop-up shops too, says McKeen. Make sure you know who you are purchasing from. Find out if there is a physical location, for example. What is the return/exchange policy is when they are no longer occupying a location?
    “In pop-up locations that are not around forever, it’s the ideal place to sell products that are counterfeit or not authentic,” he says. “Hang onto your receipts so you can match the amounts with your credit card statements.”
  • Financially speaking, always pay online using the same method (such as the same credit card or your PayPal account), advises Popa, to reduce the ways in which you could be compromised. And, check your bank and credit card statements more frequently throughout the holiday season.
    “The sooner you report fraud, the more likely it is that unauthorized charges will be reversed quickly and painlessly,” he says.   

2) PHONEY TEXTS AND EMAILS 

Using the same replication tactics, hackers target shoppers using email phishing, including sending fake emails from favourite retailers promoting deals, advising of account or password changes or order statuses, says Popa.

Watch out for spear-phishing emails, which include a link or attachment that once clicked installs malware on your device, and any deals or offers sent to you via text, an app or advertised on social media. 

“The public should be very wary of contests and giveaways this holiday season, especially those coming to them through their mobile phones, where they can’t verify the identity of the sender,” says Popa. 

FRAUD PREVENTION TIPS:

  • Read through any emails, texts or messages thoroughly. Look for grammar and spelling errors, or too good to be true offers. Deals with ultra-low prices and tight timelines are giveaways that a scam is likely at play, shares McKeen.   
  • Don’t click on links, open attachments, input or give away any personal information. 
  • Keep an eye out for the irregular, says Popa. If something doesn’t look, sound or feel right, chances are it’s not. “If it looks like a scam, you should treat it like a scam,” he says.

3) SHAM GIFT CARDS

It’s a gift-giver’s nightmare. You provide pre-paid cards to recipients from their favourite retailers only to hear back that when they attempted to cash it in that the balance was zero. 

In this situation, the scammer has entered a store, tampered with a bunch of gift cards and recorded serial numbers and activation PINs, only to sit and wait for them to be activated before draining the funds. 

FRAUD PREVENTION TIPS:

  • When purchasing cards, take a look at the packaging looking for any tears, wrinkles or other signs of tampering, and check if the PIN is exposed, recommends the Better Business Bureau. 
  • Once purchased, register the card if the retailer allows, or activate the pin as quickly as possible, then change the pin. “The longer you wait to activate them, the more likely it is that the recipient will receive an empty gift card,” says Popa. 

4) DELIVERY MISHAPS

With the holidays being the busiest season for mail deliveries, the Better Business Bureau reminds Canadians to stay on alert for delivery scams and theft of packages. 

These include phishing emails, such as fake shipping and tracking notices, posing as official mail and delivery services including Canada Post, UPS, FedEx, even a retailer. They may contain “tracking link”, or “missed delivery” notifications asking for you to enter personal information or call a phone number for more information or to reschedule delivery.

Package theft is also on the rise. According to a recent FedEx survey, which questioned 1,500 Canadians, one in four respondents claimed to have had a package stolen, with 70 per cent of those surveyed saying they were worried about it.

FRAUD PREVENTION TIPS:

Beyond ensuring someone is home to receive deliveries, the Business Bureau recommends requesting a signature upon delivery, tracking packages vigilantly (delivery services have sophisticated tracking systems these days, McKeen says), looking out for emails or phone calls advising of missed deliveries, shipping items to post offices, stores or your office instead and checking packages for tampering once received. 

“Scammers are pretty clever at taking advantage when a lot of things are going on, and people aren’t home, and use it as a way to distract you into giving information you may not otherwise,” McKeen says. “It’s about protecting your personal information and protecting yourself from these kinds of things…If you believe that you can’t be scammed, then you are a perfect target.”

MORE TO WATCH OUT FOR 

Be on full alert this holiday season with The 12 frauds of Christmas: Fraud prevention during the holiday season. According to CPA Canada’s 2019 Holiday Spending Survey, 45 per cent of respondents said that they will do most of their holiday spending in stores. Only 18 per cent said most of their shopping will be online.