With Black Friday right around the corner, it’s important to stay on top of online scams that may put a wrench in your holiday shopping.
“The holiday season tends to be the biggest online scam month of the year; there’s always a huge spike,” Andrea Gildea, head of the legal department at Transferwise, told Global News.
Here are a few common scams to watch out for.
Fake sites and products
Probably the most common scam is one in which a website looks like a legitimate vendor — but isn’t. Sometimes, fake sites will show up in prominent places — like the time scammers tricked Google into promoting a fake Amazon.com website — so it’s really up to you, the purchaser, to be sure it’s a legitimate site.
“Ultimately, it’s buyer beware. Once the product and money is given out, it’s gone,” officials at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre explained.
The differences between a legitimate site and a fraudulent one can be something small like a misspelled brand name.
“Check the web address, the URL — make sure it’s the right name, and there’s no weird characters in there,” Gildea said.
Warning signs: In your browser, you should be able to see a picture of a lock, and the URL should contain “https” instead of only “http,” as shown in the picture below.
Deals that are too good to be true
If you see something that’s too good to be true, it probably is, says the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
There’s always that one toy that becomes the hot gift for the season — but if you find a sold-out item for a discount price, you should be wary.
“Scammers will set up websites or list these items for sale on classified ads and auction websites. Consumers pay for the item, but it’s never received,” the centre explained.
Warning signs: A seller on a reputable site (like eBay) wants you to transfer money directly or through a platform not associated with the site, or a seller uses the word “item” instead of the product name.
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The holidays are the “season of giving,” but Canadians need to be wary about who they give money to, especially when you get a phone call asking for money or a door-to-door salesman.
“The end of the year is the peak season for charity appeals. It also is the peak season for the bogus charity appeals,” the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre warns.
Gildea said the most important thing to do is research: “Make sure the charity is real; make sure it’s registered.”
There are also those who ask for money based on a personal story. Prosecutors in the U.S. recently charged the people involved in a GoFundMe campaign that allegedly gave money to a good Samaritan who was homeless.
Experts say you should make sure you’re giving money to people you know.
Advice for giving during the holidays: Only give money to charities or people you recognize.
Secret Sister / Gift exchange pyramid schemes
You might have seen this one on Facebook — the “secret sister” gift exchange acts like a chain letter, telling participants they will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending a $10 gift, the BBB said.
Sometimes the message varies, but the gist is that you mail one item, repost the message and are promised to receive holiday gifts in return.
It seems harmless, but the BBB said it’s just another pyramid scheme — which is illegal in Canada.
Warning signs: If you’re promised a reward that’s more money than what you’re expected to pay, it could be a pyramid scheme. Another red flag is if you have to post your information publicly — many of these schemes ask you to post your address in the comments on Facebook.
How to protect yourself
“Pay careful attention to your bank account,” Gildea warned. If you’ve given your banking information out, she says, people could use it to make purchases.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre also advises you to read the terms and conditions and understand all payment options, return policies and product warranties before purchasing.
If you believe you’ve been scammed, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at http://www.antifraudcentre.ca.