Black Friday scams: How to protect yourself online shopping during 'prime time' for fraudsters

Black Friday can be a great time to score some great deals, but it's also a time to be on alert for potential scams.

"We're asking people to be aware," a statement from Cpl. Wayne Ross of the Nova Scotia RCMP Financial Crime unit reads. "The more you know how to recognize scams, the less likely you are to become a victim; you can protect yourself from being ripped off."

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), more than 43,000 Canadians have been victims of fraud so far this year, losing $362.7 million collectively.

"By the use of various electronic scams, fraudsters steal personal information or payment data from unsuspecting shoppers or distribute malware designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a person's computer system," Cpl. Ross stated.

This is the "prime time" for scammers to set up fake e-commerce websites. These sites can look authentic at first glance and the shoppers will either be sent fake goods or nothing at all.

Keep an eye out for these scam red flags when you're shopping online:

  • Fakes sites will be promoting low-cost inventory but if the prices seem too good to be true, they likely are.

  • To the left of the URL in your web browser there is a padlock symbol. That is the sign that the site’s information is encrypted. An unlocked padlock means that any information you send to the site could be accessed by hackers.

  • Make sure the URL makes sense, the website doesn't have typos or is just poorly designed with things like blurry photos and logos. The site should be quite easy to navigate and real companies will also share their contact information, post privacy policies and outline how to return products.

  • If a website asks you for financial details without making a purchase, the site is fake. E-commerce shops generally have a standard payment process that involves shoppers selecting their products, which are added to a shopping cart and then customers input mailing and credit card information.

  • Be on the look out for emails from businesses that you've never shopped with promoting a sale. Additionally, if a retailer is sending promotional email about a sale, the website is most likely advertising the deal as well. It's safer to check a website and shop there directly instead of clicking on a link from an unsolicited email.

A joint statement from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the Get Cyber Safe campaign, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) stresses that it can be "easy to get caught up in the excitement of the big savings" but "COVID-19 has created an environment that is ripe for fraud and online criminal activity."

“Online shopping is convenient, but it can put Canadians at risk for identity theft, hacking and financial loss," a statement from Sami Khoury, head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, reads.

"Being aware of the signs of illegitimate online retailers and implementing simple and effective cyber security practices for online shopping is crucial to keep sensitive information and assets private. Strengthening our cyber defences helps keep us all safe.”

In addition learning how to recognize fraudulent websites, Canadians should also be aware of how to protect their personal information.

Canadians are urged to:

  • Never save credit card information in a browser

  • Make online purchases through personal wi-fi networks

  • If a purchase needs to be made on a public network, use cellular data or set up a virtual private network (VPN)

  • Purchase from familiar brands

  • Do research and read reviews

“Scams, fraud and cybercrime are significant issues that are having real impacts on individuals, businesses and organizations in Canada and around the world," a statement from Chris Lynam, director general of the CAFC reads.

"Unfortunately, fraudsters and cybercriminals use holiday promotions to continue to victimize people. The best way to protect yourself and those around you is by learning what fraud and cybercrime looks like and report it."

Close up of a young family doing some online Christmas shopping
Close up of a young family doing some online Christmas shopping

How to effectively, efficient shop Black Friday sales in the U.S.

If you're travelling to the U.S. to try to shop the Black Friday deals in person, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has provided some tips to help facilitate a smoother journey across the Canada-U.S. border.

  • Check wait times to cross land borders during non-peak times, like early mornings. The busiest day will likely be on Monday.

  • Save time by using the Advance CBSA Declaration in ArriveCAN if you're arriving at the Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg and Halifax airports.

  • If you're travelling with children, the CBSA recommends that the accompanying adult has a consent letter authorizing them to travel with the children.

  • Know the exemption limits if you're making a purchase or picking up an online order in the U.S. before returning to Canada. For an absence of more than 24 hours, you can bring back $200 worth of goods without having to pay any duties and taxes. The amount increases to $800 for an absence of more than 48 hours.

  • In order to declare your items, make sure nothing is gift wrapped and have your receipts available. Declare any foods, plants, or animals, like raw meats, fruits, house plants, live animals, wood products (including firewood and wooden souvenirs) at the border. There are currently restrictions on imports of live birds, bird products and by-products from the U.S. due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. It is recommended to not bring poultry products, like turkey, eggs, and chicken, into Canada.