Skip to content

Christmas shoppers warned of holiday cyberscams

"Fraudsters and identity thieves don’t take time off for the holidays."
Cyber security experts advise caution when Christmas shopping online.

Online security experts are warning Christmas shoppers to be wary of cybercrooks’ online scams and also of companies that have lax virtual shopping precautions.

“Fraudsters and identity thieves don’t take time off for the holidays, so it is essential to remain vigilant and to take steps to protect yourself,” said Julie Kuzmic, Equifax Canada's senior compliance officer for consumer advocacy. 

“Be careful about where you shop and be mindful of the information you share online,” she added.

Proofpoint, a cybersecurity and compliance company, said as the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping period approaches, research shows nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of Canada’s top 50 online retailers aren’t taking appropriate measures to protect consumers from potential email fraud and cybercrime.

Proofpoint said Canadians spent an estimated $10.3 billion during Cyber Week last year. The Retail Council of Canada said British Columbians could spend $860 on gifts, down from the national average of $898.

Online shopping safety

Now, said Proofpoint, if Canadians are doing their shopping online, there are safety considerations to be considered.

The company did an analysis of Canada’s top 50 online retailers based on website traffic and their adoption of DMARC1 (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance). The widely used authentication protocol helps guarantee the identity of email communications and protects website domain names from being spoofed and misused.

What the analysis found was:

  • only 28 per cent of online retailers have implemented the highest level of protection to reject suspicious emails from reaching consumers’ inboxes, meaning 72 per cent of online retailers in Canada are not actively blocking fraudulent emails from reaching consumers;
  • 30 per cent have no DMARC record in place at all, and;
  • 28 per cent have implemented a monitor policy, meaning unqualified emails can still arrive in the recipient’s inbox; and only 14 per cent have implemented a quarantine policy to direct unqualified emails to spam/junk folders.

“The influx of emails from brands offering great deals during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping period makes it an opportune time for cyber criminals to capitalize on the spike in email traffic and target shoppers with creative and convincing lures and scams,” said Robert Holmes, group vice-president and general manager of Proofpoint’s sender security and authentication business.

The simple rule is be vigilante and don’t click on any link that seems too good to be true.

It’s against this backdrop Google and Yahoo! recently announced that, beginning in February 2024, DMARC authentication will be required to send messages from their platforms. That includes retailers who send high volumes of email.

Failure to comply will significantly impact the delivering of legitimate company messages to customers with Gmail and Yahoo! accounts, Holmes said.

By the numbers

Facing financial pressures, Canadians are planning to be more budget-conscious and security-minded for the 2023 holiday shopping season, according to a recent Equifax survey. What researchers found was:

  • 68 per cent of respondents said they plan to budget for holiday shopping this year, up from 57 per cent in 2022;
  • credit cards remain the preferred payment method for holiday purchases for most people (67 per cent); the number climbs even higher to 72 per cent for younger adults (aged 18-34); and,
  • 44 per cent feel more vulnerable to fraudsters and identity thieves during the holidays, with 70 per cent saying they need to do more to protect their personal data, up from 60 per cent in 2022. 

“The findings from this survey suggest people are taking steps to be more mindful of their spending and their personal information during the holidays,” Kuzmic said. “It is important to remember that you can take control of your credit and protect your identity at any time of year. Some simple actions like budgeting and checking your credit reports can help you avoid overspending and find potential signs of fraud.”

Fraud protection for consumers

Of Equifax survey respondents, 44 per cent said they feel more vulnerable to fraudsters and identity thieves during this time of year.

Most survey respondents are taking steps to protect themselves from identity theft, with 84 per cent checking their credit card bills for suspicious activity, 72 per cent using up-to-date antivirus software, 27 per cent purchasing identity theft protection products, and 87 per cent limiting the information they share on social media.

Equifax offered several shopping tips:

  •  only shop with trusted retailers and be careful at the checkout;
  •  regularly check your credit reports and bank statements for suspicious activity;
  •  be careful about what information you share on social media and be careful about clicking on links in emails or text messages;
  •  use strong passwords that are changed regularly and two-factor authentication for your online accounts, and;
  •  avoid using public Wi-Fi to shop online.