How to protect yourself from fraud this holiday season


The holidays are fast approaching and, for many of us, that means a full season of shopping for food, drinks, décor, and – of course – gifts.

Let’s face it:

Online shopping is often the best way to get your holiday goods. It’s quick, convenient, and doesn’t require leaving the house. But plenty of fraudsters also take advantage of the season of overspending, with scam notifications and setups that can trick even the most seasoned shoppers.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), Canadians lost a total of $230 million due to fraud in 2021 — including over $100 million associated with online fraud. And these scams can ramp up towards the end of each year, as ‘the season of giving’ gets closer.

While we can hope every fraudster gets a lump of coal in their stocking this year, here are some more practical tips to protect yourself from fraud this holiday season.

Keep track of your online purchases.

Keep track of your orders to make sure you only get updates for the items you’ve actually purchased, and no surprise phone calls from your credit card company.

Take Sam, for instance:

Sam is a savvy online shopper. He finished his holiday shopping early and signed up for text notifications so that he can track the progress of each and every order. There’s just one problem: Sam ordered a lot of items from several different online stores. So, when he receives an email from a shipping company urging him to fill out a form and verify his personal information, he doesn’t question it — even though he doesn’t recognize the company name or the order in question. In fact, he doesn’t remember setting up email notifications at all.

The form asks for Sam’s banking information, including credit card number, expiry date, and CVV (or the 3 digits on the back of his credit card). An hour after he hits the ‘Submit’ button on the form, Sam receives a phone call from his credit card company asking to verify thousands of dollars in recent transactions processed through his Visa to online gambling sites.

So, what could Sam have done differently?

Even for the orders you’re expecting, it’s best to avoid clicking links and/or providing personal or financial information when you receive these order status notifications. The message may look legitimate, but when in doubt, visit the retailer’s website or app to track your shipment. Know that a trusted retailer will never threaten you or require banking information to assist with a shipping notification.

Remember: the holidays are a time of overspending, and fraudsters know and take advantage of this in any way they can. Be sure to regularly check your bank statements over the holidays to make sure there are no purchases listed that you didn’t make yourself. If you notice a suspicious charge, report it to your bank right away.

Shop from a secure network.

Sam’s favourite holiday pastime is sitting with an eggnog latte from his local coffee shop and browsing online retailers. But when it comes to checkout, he waits until he’s at home or on a Wi-Fi network he can trust.

If you’re using a public Wi-Fi network – at the library or a restaurant, for instance – it might be possible for other users on the network to see any personal information or login credentials you access from that network.

Be sure to regularly install updates to your smartphone and computer to keep your online security up to date. A few minutes of security admin work can make a big difference in your ability to protect yourself from fraud.

Know who you’re buying from.

Sam knows from experience that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. And if a website doesn’t look legitimate, it probably isn’t.

Be skeptical with your online buying decision-making. Read online reviews on Google, other websites, and social media to make sure a website and its product are worth your money.

Just to be on the safe side, here are some quick tips for buying from any website:

  • Make sure the web address starts with https:// rather than http://. That extra ‘s’ helps ensure that any sensitive information you choose to share goes through a secure web connection. But this doesn’t always guarantee that the website is the real deal, so when in doubt, don’t checkout. 
  • Choose not to save your payment information at checkout when buying online. Fraud prevention and your safety are more important than the convenience of a faster checkout.
  • Pay with credit if you can. When it comes to fraud prevention, it’s better to pay with credit than debit. If a website is requesting an unusual payment method, like a wire transfer or gift card, consider it a major red flag for fraud.

Beware of scams.

Over the holiday season, scammers can get even more creative — designing elaborate scam techniques to snatch your personal information.

Loan scams

Loans can be a solid option when you’re looking for extra money for the holiday season but beware of where it’s coming from. A reputable lender won’t approve you for a loan you didn’t apply for, and they won’t ask you to pay a portion or all of the loan back right away. Instead, they’ll respond to your financial needs and set up a payment schedule for repayment.

If you need holiday cash in a hurry, are worried about your credit score, and are considering using a payday lender, check out the Vancity Fair & Fast Loan™. It takes less than 10 minutes to set up and allows you to borrow between $100 and $2,500.

Charity scams

Many of us take part in charitable giving during the holidays, but it’s important to research before you give. Check to make sure a charity is legitimate by visiting their official website. If it looks questionable, doublecheck the CRA website’s searchable list of registered Canadian charities.

Use your best judgement.

Even just by reading this post, you’re taking a big step to protect yourself from fraud. Stay aware, use your best judgement, and do your research to make sure you’re giving your hard-earned dollars to legitimate and reputable companies. Taking these small steps toward fraud prevention is the best way to ensure a safe and secure holiday season.

Looking for more fraud prevention tips? Learn more about top security threats and how to keep your information safe.  

Vancity Fair & Fast Loan™ is a trademark of Vancouver City Savings Credit Union.

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