The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) are warning residents that as the holidays approach, scams will become more prevalent. The holidays are a time of giving and charity for most, but scammers see it as a time of taking, moreso than any other time of year. The CAFC would like to highlight the 12 most popular holiday scams for people to watch out for.
Online shopping is one of the easiest ways for scammers to catch someone out. Fake ads for items that don’t exist are the most prevalent and frustrating scams to fall for, because not only have you paid money for something you won’t be getting, but the item is usually something you were really looking forward to, especially around the holidays. Event tickets, vehicles, and pets are the usual culprits, so double check that everything is legitimate and be suspicious if the price seems too good to be true.
Counterfeit merchandise is abundant even outside the holidays, so be wary of huge discounts that seem too good to be true. When the item arrives, it will look like the real deal, but it will be inferior in quality and may even carry significant health risks. Again, be skeptical of super low prices and receive the item in person if possible.
On the other side of things, people who sell goods or services online themselves should be wary of people trying to scam them through their own stores. Payment offers for more than the asking price are usually followed by a chargeback, a bounced cheque, or a notification that the payment never even arrived.
Secret Santa scams are more insidious, because they use your own friends and family against you. Fraudsters will organize a Secret Santa exchange on social media, pulling in multiple victims who are excited to be part of such a nice holiday activity and thus don’t look too close at the details. Unfortunately, the organizers will rig everything so they receive multiple gifts and the participants receive one; even if they don’t, your personal information can be sold for a tidy sum.
Gift cards are popular around the holidays for those who don’t know what to get someone as a present, but like cash, they’re untraceable. Fraudsters will pose as companies or businesses and ask for payment in gift cards, and once the information is given over the phone, they vanish. It is extremely unlikely that the victim of a gift card scam will ever get their money back.
Prize scams are popular around the holidays because there are so many more sweepstakes and contests to enter. Victims receive a letter or call about a huge prize they’ve won, but they must give their personal information and a processing fee first. Fees from an actual contest would never be collected from the winner, they’d simply be removed from the winnings, and you can’t enter a lottery without buying a ticket yourself from within that country.
Emergency scams are more effective around the holidays because family is already on the brain. If a loved on reaches out to you asking for money, and they need you to keep it a secret, make sure they’re actually related to you by asking questions only a family member would know the answer to.
Email and text scams can be hard to spot. It looks like a message from a reputable source, like a financial institution or telecom company, but it’s actually a scammer collecting your personal information or sending you a virus link to click on. A reputable company will always call you to confirm information, and if you’re unsure, you can always call them with their usual number.
Romance scams are particularly insidious because they prey on the depression and loneliness that people feel around the holidays if they don’t have anyone to be with or around. An attractive fake identity will use loving messages and sweet promises to lure victims into sending money, which they may say will be used on transportation to visit, but will instead be deposited straight into their wallet.
More generally, investing is also a popular online scam, especially with cryptocurrency. Any legitimate company asking for investments will have a national registry, which can be verified at www.aretheyregistered.ca, and the investment should make sense to you. Research every aspect of the investment, including the team behind the offer, before sending any sort of money or signature.
Finally, identity theft and fraud are especially dangerous during the holiday rush because it’s so much harder to notice. Always keep your wallet on your person and cover the PIN for your bank cards. Never share passwords or personal information, even with people you trust, and keep an eye on your bank statements for any purchases that fraudsters will slip in-between holiday buys. Keep an eye out for credit applications you didn’t authorize, rerouted mail, bills from services you don’t use, and database breaches that affect your information.
Anyone suspecting they’re a fraud victim should report it to their local police, as well as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre through their online reporting system or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.