‘Tis the Season for Fraud

Canadians urged to watch out for scammers during holiday season
December 9, 2014 Updated: December 9, 2014

The country’s largest community credit union is warning Canadians to be vigilant about identity theft this holiday season—a peak time for scam artists looking to steal people’s identity or hard-earned cash.

According to B.C.-based Vancity, fraudsters use a plethora of schemes during the holiday season, such as email phishing messages that try to convince people to hand over their personal information, install malicious software, or donate to a fake charity, among many others.

The credit union recommends the following tips to avoid becoming a fraud victim:

  • Be a scrooge with everything related to your identity.
  • Don’t take a big purse shopping and limit the amount of bank cards, credit cards, and identification you take with you.
  • Be extremely cautious when shopping online. Be mindful of bogus websites and go directly to the store’s website by typing its address into your web browser, buy gift cards directly from merchants or from an authorized sales merchant, and be wary of filling out online forms that request personal information.
  • Remain vigilant, protect your PIN, and ensure no one is shoulder surfing when you put your PIN into an ATM or a payment device.
  • Keep an eye out for door-knocking fraudsters representing a fake charity or selling magazine subscriptions to raise money for a worthy cause or school trip that may not exist.
  • Avoid broadcasting to your social media circles that you are about to fly off for a warm holiday vacation, which also tells criminals that your snail mail–with your banking and other personal information–will be sitting in your mailbox untouched.

“We advise our members to report a scam immediately if they suspect their personal information may be compromised, and to check their banking information so there are no surprises,” said Doris Orr, chief risk officer for Vancity.

‘Romance scam’ and more

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, one of the most common holiday scams is the “romance scam.” This time of the year can be lonely for some, and fraudsters may take advantage of this by faking identities on online dating websites and social media to trick victims into sending them money.

“Fraudsters want to develop a quick relationship with you. Be suspicious when someone you haven’t met professes their love to you,” warns CAFC on its website. “Never under any circumstances send money for any reason.”

Scammers may also take advantage of people’s generosity around the holiday season by faking charities with names that are close to the names of legitimate charities. To protect themselves, people are encouraged to contact charities directly to ensure the request is from them, and to search Revenue Canada’s website for the list of all registered charities.

Any online transaction, whether buying or selling, should be done very carefully to avoid falling victim to fraud. Buyers should check seller review feedback and avoid new sellers or those with negative reviews. Making deals outside the auction site should be avoided, and payment methods that offer fraud protection should be used, such as an Internet payment service or credit card.

When shopping online, be aware that popular brands sold there be counterfeit. Some warning signs to look for include if the price is too good to be true; the website has spelling mistakes and grammatical errors; and contact emails listed are from a web-based service such as Gmail or Yahoo.

“Counterfeit products are far inferior and in many cases could pose a significant health risk to consumers. For example, counterfeit jackets have been found to contain bacteria, fungus, and mildew,” CAFC says.

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