With all the restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping has soared in popularity. But the risk of online fraud keeps growing too. And fraud costs Canadians a lot of money.

According to the Competition Bureau of Canada, Canadians lost more than $312 million dollars to fraud between January 2018 and December 2020. More than 67,000 cases of fraud were reported across Canada in 2020. But the Competition Bureau estimates that’s only 5% of the actual number. 

How to shop online safely

Sometimes scams are pretty obvious. Sometimes they’re hard to spot. So how do you avoid online scams? Here are 5 tips for safe online shopping.

1. Do your research.

Is the price in Canadian dollars?  Are there shipping charges or brokerage fees if the item is from another country? You should check this type of information before you make a purchase.

2. Make sure the seller provides all the information you need.

Beware if you can’t find the following information anywhere on the site: 

  • mailing address
  • email address
  • customer service contact information
  • shipping method and estimated delivery date
  • refund, exchange and cancellation policy, including charges for returns

3. Only shop on secure sites.

A secure site protects your data. To see if a site is secure, check the address bar. It should start with “https://” and have a padlock icon beside it.

4. Pay with your credit card.

When you pay with your credit card, you have additional protection, making it easier to return items and get your money back. If a seller takes more than 15 days to refund your return, you have the next 60 days to request a charge back. You won’t have that option if you pay with your debit card or use a third-party payment site like PayPal.

5. Research a vendor or business online.

Do some online research to see if any complaints have been filed against the business, if there are violations. For example, in Quebec, you can check the Office de la protection du consommateur du Québec website to find more information about a business.

Be cautious when browsing classified ad sites

Online classified sites like Kijiji, LesPAC, Craigslist, etc. can be good places to find great bargains. However, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) doesn’t cover sales between individuals, so you need to be very careful. Sometimes sellers will pose as “fake” private vendors in order to evade the law.  

There are ways you can avoid these bogus private vendors. Let’s look at buying a used car as an example. (These tips apply to other kinds of sales too.)

  1. An online search reveals that the vendor has ads for multiple vehicles. Clearly that’s not your typical moving sale or garage sale scenario.
  2. The vendor is selling the vehicle for someone else. For example, the owner was in a car accident and is unable to meet with you.
  3. The vendor wants to meet at your place, not their own.
  4. The vendor offers to transfer ownership of the vehicle themselves instead of through your provincial or territorial government’s automobile office.

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*The CPA applies to transactions between businesses and consumers. Transactions between individuals may be covered by other laws, e.g. the Civil Code, the Criminal Code (fraud), etc.