Tips for Avoiding Common Holiday Scams

The holidays are a time of giving for most but, for scammers, it is a time of taking. It is important to stay vigilant over the holiday season and keep yourself protected against fraud.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) has highlighted the 12 most popular holiday scams so that you can recognize, reject, and report them:

1. Counterfeit Merchandise

Beware of flashy discount ads that direct you to websites that look like the legitimate manufacturers. Fraudulent items are not only likely to be inferior quality but can also pose significant health risks, so it is important to remain vigilant.

2. Selling Goods & Services Online

If you are selling items online, be suspicious of offers that are more than the asking price. Confirm that you have received a legitimate payment before you send the product.

3. Fake Charities

The holidays are a busy time for charities seeking donations. Confirm the charity you are considering donating to is registered with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) before providing any personal or financial information.

You can search for a list of legitimate charities on the CRA’s website here.

4. Romance Scams

An attractive fake identity may lure you in with loving messages and sweet promises. However, fraudsters will try to play on your emotions to maximize their payday over time. Fraudsters will use dating or social networking sites to contact their victims with fake accounts using profile photos stolen from legitimate people. Their background stories often mimic the victim’s, and they will manipulate their victims’ emotions by professing their love to gain trust, affection, and money.

Watch out for the above signs and never give your money away to those you do not know personally.

5. Online Shopping

Fraudsters may post fake ads for items that do not exist. In these cases, the listing price for almost any item is usually too good to be true. Research before you buy and whenever possible, exchange goods in person (at a public place) or use your credit card for payment.

6. Phishing Emails & Texts

You may receive messages claiming to be from a recognizable source (e.g. financial institution, telecommunications company, service provider, shipping company) asking you to submit or confirm your information. They may even include a malicious link.

Be cautious and never open emails or text messages you do not recognize or respond/provide personal information through email or text. If you think it is related to a company you subscribe to, sign-in directly from your official user account with the company instead.

7. Secret Santa

You may have noticed multiple gift exchange posts on your social media networks asking you to participate in a Secret Santa, or Secret Sister exchange. This may seem like a fun activity where you send just one gift and receive multiples in return. Unfortunately, this exchange is a pyramid scheme, and collects some of your personal information.

Pyramid schemes are illegal in Canada.

8. Prize Notifications

You may receive a letter or a call with the good news; you have won millions and a fancy car too! First, you just need to confirm your personal information and then cover a few fees before your winnings can be delivered.

Remember: if you did not enter, you cannot win. You cannot enter another country’s lottery without purchasing a ticket from within that country. In Canada, if there are fees associated to a prize, they are removed from the total winnings – you would never be required to pay fees in advance.

9. Emergency

Is a supposed loved one reaching out to you because they need money now and you are the only person who they trust to keep it a secret? Resist the urge to act immediately and verify the person’s identity first by asking them questions a stranger would not know.

10. Gift Card Requests

Gift cards are a popular and convenient way to give a gift. They should also be considered like cash; once they are exchanged, it is unlikely that you will receive your money back. Gift cards are not meant for payments and no legitimate business or organization will request these, especially under pressure.

11. Identity Theft

In all the hustle and bustle of the season, keep your wallet on you, cover your PIN when using your debit or credit card, and do not share passwords or provide your personal information on impulse if you feel pressured to do so. Fraudsters may try to make you feel hurried, so you do not have time to think before providing your personal information.

12. Identity Fraud

Fraudsters love a good shopping spree, especially when they are using someone else’s name and money. Contact your financial institutions and the credit bureaus, Equifax Canada, and TransUnion Canada, as soon as you notice any of the following:

– Suspicious activity on your financial statement(s)
– Unauthorized activity on your credit report
– Letters approving or declining credit applications you did not authorize
– Re-routed mail
– Bills from service providers you do not use
– Your information was compromised as part of a database breach

You may also wish to enable text message or email alerts, so you are notified if your password or personal information is changed.

How to Report Fraud

If you think you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud, please contact your local police department and report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or online at

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