The holidays may be a time for giving, but Ontario Provincial Police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre are reminding the public that for fraudsters, it’s also a time for taking.

People shopping for gifts online should be aware that super-low prices for items such as event tickets or holiday rentals may not be legitimate.

"They need to know that fraudsters to pose as genuine sellers and they post fake ads for items that don’t exist," said Sue Labelle from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. "Usually it's too good to be true."

Anyone who suspects they may have been the victim of a fraud should contact the centre, which collects information on scams.

As of the end of October, it has reported more than 43,000 Canadian victims of fraud this year, more than all of 2020. Nearly $200 million has been lost to fraud.

Here are 12 popular scams that law enforcement officials warn you to keep an eye out for this Christmas.

1. Counterfeit merchandise

Counterfeiters can create flashy discount ads that direct you to websites that look like legitimate manufacturers and offer products at a discount.

You can take these steps:

  • Thoroughly research a website before purchasing from it
  • Search for warnings posted online about the seller/website
  • Look for red flags on the website

If you do receive an inferior product, police warn it can pose health risks.

2. Selling goods and services online

Both buyers and sellers need to be aware that not all offers are trustworthy. Be suspicious of payment offers that are more than the asking price and confirm that you have received a legitimate payment before you send the product.

Also watch out for buyers who try not to pay you or ask for your personal information.

3. Cryptocurrency investment scams

Fraudsters use social media and websites to lure Canadians into investing in cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. Before investing, ask for information about the investment. Research the team behind the offering and analyze the feasibility of the project.

You can also verify if the company is registered by using the National Registration Tool.

4. Romance scams

Someone with an attractive fake identity lures you into a web of lies with loving messages and promises. They will say anything to gain your trust and access your wallet.

Watch out for people entering a relationship with you for the purpose of taking your money or personal information.

5. Online shopping

Fraudsters pose as genuine sellers and post fake ads for items that do not exist. The listing price for almost any item is usually too good to be true. Research before you buy.

Whenever possible, exchange goods in person or use your credit card for payment.

6. Phishing Emails and Texts 

You may receive messages claiming to be from a recognizable source, such as a financial institution, telecommunications company or other service provider, asking you to submit or confirm your information. They may include a malicious link.

7. Secret Santa

You may have noticed multiple gift exchange posts on your social media feeds. This may seem like a fun activity where you only have to send one gift and receive multiples in return.

Unfortunately, this exchange collects some of your personal information and also hides a pyramid scheme where only those on top profit. Pyramid schemes are illegal in Canada.

8. Prize notifications

You may receive a letter or a call with the good news. You've won millions of dollars! You’ve won a fancy car! A free cruise! You just need to pay a fee before your winnings can be delivered.

If you didn't enter, you can't win. You can't 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

Emergency - Is a supposed loved one reaching out to you because they need money now and you're the only one they trust to keep it a secret? Resist the urge to act immediately and verify the person's identity by asking those questions a stranger wouldn't know.

10. Gift cards

Gift cards are a popular and convenient way to give a gift. They should also be treated as cash; once they are exchanged, it is unlikely that you are getting your money back.

Gift cards are not meant for payments and no legitimate business or organization will request these.

11. Identity theft

In all the hustle and bustle of the season, make sure you keep your wallet on your person and cover your PIN. Don’t share passwords or your personal information.

12. Identity fraud

Fraudsters love a good shopping spree; especially when they're 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 statements.
  • 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.

Anyone who suspects they have been the victim of cybercrime or fraud should report it to their local police and to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre's online reporting system or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.