52 Canadian Tips to Protect Yourself Against Scams: Gift Cards, Charities and Shopping Online

Make sure you stay safe when shopping online with this video from the Credit Made Clearer series: ‘Shopping Safely Online’:

The Ministry of Consumer Services of Ontario, Canada, have the following 52 tips to help you be vigilant and not be a victim of scams from gift cards, charities and shopping online:

Gift Cards (excluding prepaid phone cards and loyalty cards which are used to collect rewards or points)

  • The only fees a business is permitted to charge are to customize a gift card or replace one that has been lost or stolen.
  • To avoid gift card scams, buy gift cards from the person behind the counter if you can. It’s safer than buying it off the rack.
  • Opt for gift cards that have a protective backing or a scratch-off PIN number so that only the purchaser can use it.
  • Check the packaging or the back of the card for tampering before you purchase the card.
  • Always keep your receipts, which will usually show the card number and how much you have paid.
  • Stores selling cards with the knowledge of their impending closure may be in violation of the Consumer Protection Act. The Act prohibits merchants from telling consumers that goods or services will be available or can be delivered where the merchant knows or should know that this is not the case.
  • Expiry dates are banned from mall gift cards.
  • If a retailer in a mall goes under, consumers can use their card at any other retailer in the mall.

Charity Scams

  • Target your donations to established charities that you are familiar with.
  • Don’t pay in cash.
  • Ask how much of your gift will be used directly for the charitable work.
  • Ask how much will go toward administrative costs.
  • Ask for a tax receipt.
  • Ask for the charitable registration number.
  • If you receive a telephone call or someone comes to the door, ask for the information to be sent to you in the mail before you donate.
  • Never give out personal or financial information over the phone or at the door.
  • Beware of anyone who presses you to contribute immediately. Real charities don’t use high-pressure tactics.
  • Phony fundraisers use copycat names to imitate real charities. Check names in your phone book or online.
  • Never give cash. Make cheques payable to the charity’s full name.
  • Beware of anyone who thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember. This is a common trick used by swindlers.
  • Be cautious if you are asked for spare change or donations from individuals sitting at a table located in a public place, such as a mall. Ask questions about how your contribution will be used, what the organization’s registered charity number is and for identification so that you can be sure the staff at the table work for the charity they represent.

Shopping Online Dangers

Shopping online is convenient, easy and popular.

However, you have little control over what happens to personal information used when shopping online. Each transaction leaves an information trail that can be used by hackers and other unauthorized individuals to assemble financial and personal profiles on you. This information can be sold or stolen and used for criminal purposes. You have every right to feel vulnerable when your credit card number and other financial information go sailing into cyberspace.”

  • Don’t fall for offers that sound too good to be true — they often are.
  • Don’t respond to spam — unsolicited e-mail offers.
  • Avoid getting hooked by offers for samples with purchases and other “freebies” – they are meant to reel in the unsuspecting.
  • Know whom you’re dealing with. The company’s website should provide basic information (i.e. the seller’s name, business address and phone number).
  • Check the reputation of the business before buying – be careful because it may pocket your money and not deliver on its promises. If you’ve never dealt with the company before, ask friends or family if they have.
  • Know what you’re paying for. Appropriate product information should be provided (i.e. information on size, materials or colour options, certificates or seals of approval, and warranties or guarantees).
  • Consider the full cost of the purchase: all applicable taxes, shipping and handling charges, duty and currency conversions should be factored in.
  • Always read the fine print on your contract. The terms and conditions of the agreement and refund or exchange policies should be clearly stated.
  • Print or save all contracts and receipts for your protection.
  • Avoid purchases where there is no contract detailing your rights and responsibilities along with the company’s.
  • If you are purchasing goods internationally, make sure the product meets Canadian safety standards.
  • Keep in mind that companies located far away may charge high shipping costs on returned items and it may be costly to pursue legal remedies if a problem arises.
  • Be aware that some companies may not honour warranties on goods that are purchased cross-border if you can purchase similar goods in Canada.
  • Decide on the appropriate form of payment. It’s a good idea to wait until you have received your goods or services before making any payments, if possible.
  • Ensure that your credit card number and personal financial information are being sent over a secure and protected website and server. Responsible businesses usually advertise this fact.
  • Ensure that appropriate complaint handling procedures are in place. Information such as knowing where, how and to whom you may direct any complaints should be clearly stated on the company’s website.
  • Fake or “spoof” websites are designed to trick consumers and collect their personal information. Be cautious when clicking on a link or an unknown website or unfamiliar e-mail. The link may take you to a fraudulent site.
  • Be wary of computer start-up software that asks for registration information.
  • Never share your passwords.
  • Don’t use e-mail to send personal information.
  • Discourage harvesting of your e-mail address – think about creating “disposable” e-mail addresses for online purchases, mask your address or use a unique e-mail address.
  • Beware of Internet promotions that ask for personal information. Identity thieves may use phoney offers to get you to give them your information.
  • After completing any sort of financial transaction online, make sure you sign out of the website and clear your Internet file/cache. Most financial institutions provide instructions on how to clear the caches under their “security” section.
  • Don’t give a credit card number or other identification information to a company that doesn’t provide its name, business address, telephone number and e-mail address.
  • Before giving your credit card number or other financial information to a business, make sure that their website is protected and secured. Look for a lock symbol located somewhere on the browser or make sure the URL begins with “https://” . (Please note that the ‘s’ in “https://” stands for secured).
  • Chain letters and phoney investment schemes try to win your confidence with false promises of incredible returns – they’re only after your personal and/or credit information. There are many types of investment frauds and scams. Many are convincing and look very real. To learn more about investing and making good investment decisions, visit www.investorED.ca.
  • Teach children to keep their identities confidential in chat rooms, bulletin boards or newsgroups. Help them learn to choose screen names that do not identify them, and to understand that any information they exchange on the Internet is not private.
  • An estimated 60 per cent of young people in Canada use social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace. Identity thieves can take simple information such as your birthday or your pet’s name, as clues to common passwords and steal your identity.  Understand that information exchanged in chat rooms, bulletin boards and social network sites is not private.
  • Look into encryption as well as install fire-wall, anti-virus, anti-spyware and security software and keep it up to date.

Please click here for more info on scams in regards to gift cards, charities and shopping online.

Have an Enjoyable and Safe Season for Shopping &  Giving!

52 Canadian Tips to Protect Yourself Against Scams: Gift Cards, Charities and Shopping Online
52 Canadian Tips to Protect Yourself Against Scams: Gift Cards, Charities and Shopping Online

Ontario, Canada: Newsroom


‘Tis the Season For Giving

December 11, 2011

McGuinty Government Offers Holiday Tips for Smart Consumers

The holiday season is a time to give, but it is also a time when some people may try to take advantage of the giving spirit. To help families protect themselves, Ontario is offering some consumer tips on purchasing gift cards, donating to charities and shopping online. Tips include:

  • Gift cards are as good as cash — keep them in a safe place;
  • Keep your gift card receipt as a guarantee of the value of the card — the recipient may need it if the card is lost or stolen;
  • Give only to familiar charities, or check diligently before making a donation;
  • Ask questions about the charity and how your money will be spent;
  • When shopping online, purchase from a reputable business;
  • Protect credit card numbers and personal information — use secure websites to purchase gifts online.

Helping Ontario consumers make informed choices is part of the McGuinty government’s commitment to educate, protect and serve Ontarians by ensuring a fair and safe marketplace.


“We encourage Ontario families to enjoy the holidays and feel good about giving, but we urge Ontarians to be smart consumers.”

 – Margarett Best
Minister of Consumer Services




Mukunthan Paramalingham
Minister’s Office

Ministry of Consumer Services


You may also want to know: