What is a holiday purchase scam?

Fraudsters take advantage of increased shopping during the holiday season to create opportunities that disguise their schemes. Using common transactions and activities like deliveries and gift-giving, they trick you into divulging personal information, downloading malware onto your personal devices or spending money without receiving what you paid for.

Common holiday purchase scams

Fraudsters send out shipping notification emails that resemble legitimate companies like UPS or FedEx. These emails prompt you to select links that will either download malware or ask for your personal and banking information.

Fraudsters can also leave a fake “missed delivery” notification on your door with a phone number to call. When you call, fraudsters will attempt to get your personal and banking information.

Fraudsters steal the account and PIN numbers from gift cards and leave the unpurchased cards in the store. Once you buy these cards, fraudsters will strip the value of the cards without your knowledge.

Fraudsters send phishing emails or use pop-up ads to offer free gift cards. When you select the free gift card link, you can be exposed to malware or asked for personal information.

Fraudsters use emails or social media posts that lead you to a website for a fake charity and make an emotional appeal for donations. The fake charity requests payment through methods that make it difficult to recover your money, such as a wire transfer or a prepaid credit card.

Fraudsters set up fake websites to sell products during the holiday season, but after paying for the product, you never receive what you paid for. Some of these fake retailers will ask you to input credit card information before you initiate the purchase transaction.

Fraudsters invite you to participate in a gift exchange, where you give a gift and get a gift, then ask you to share this event with your network. This type of scam is a pyramid scheme, since the scam grows as people continue to join. Fraudsters may also ask participants to provide personal information like their shipping address or banking details.

Similar to fake retailers, fraudsters use social media to advertise merchandise or holiday deals to get you to select a link and buy a gift. However, you never receive what you paid for, or you receive counterfeit items instead.

Signs of a holiday purchase scam

  • You receive unsolicited emails or visit websites with grammatical errors, blurry logos or imperfect branding.
  • You're pressured to spend money quickly to take advantage of a holiday sale or offer.
  • You receive or purchase a gift card with the security code exposed on the back.
  • You're asked to pay through methods that are difficult to reverse like wire transfers or prepaid cards.
  • The site you're purchasing from isn't secure; the closed padlock symbol is missing from the web address. 

Stay safe with our tips

  • Don't open attachments or links within unsolicited emails. If you're not subscribed to a brand or company newsletter, or you receive notices for delivery and shipments you didn't make, delete the emails.
  • After you purchase or receive a gift card, register it with the retailer as soon as possible. Check the back of any gift card you purchase or receive to ensure the security code isn't exposed.
  • Before you donate, verify a charity is registered with the CRA Opens in a new window..
  • Purchase your gifts and products from secure sites only — web addresses with a closed padlock symbol.
  • Use your credit card to make purchases online.
  • Always take your time to review if a purchase is right for you, plus the sale and return policies.
  • Do your research and check out customer reviews from different sites if you come across a product or offer you're not sure about.
  • Update your antiviral software on your computer or mobile device.

Learn more about holiday purchase scams

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Opens in a new window.

Report fraud when it happens and track the latest data on fraud in Canada.

The Little Black Book of Scams Opens in a new window.

Download the Canadian Competition Bureau's guide to scams in 8 different languages.

Canadian Bankers Association Opens in a new window.

Read about the latest news and trends in fraud awareness and prevention.