Beware of goods that seem too good to be true

women looking at computer, concerned about digital fraud

March 16, 2020 

It’s Fraud Prevention Month, and this year’s theme is digital fraud. Earlier this month, we discussed SIM swapping and "synthetic identity fraud," so this time we decided to take a look at some online scams that frequently target young people. We spoke to Jeff Thomson, an expert at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Jeff is the Centre’s Senior RCMP Intelligence Analyst and Acting in Charge of the Fraud Prevention and Intake Unit. The following is an edited version of our conversation:

FCAC: What are you seeing when it comes to online scams targeting youth?

Jeff Thomson: We see a lot of general merchandise scams, which include the marketing of counterfeit goods. Young people are hopping online to buy this merchandise, whether it’s golf clubs, boots, purses, coats and jackets. All the big brands are there, and people will find an offer that’s too good to be true. 

Many fraudsters create a lookalike web site and advertising to mirror the actual brand. You make your purchase and it turns out to be not what you ordered. That’s a huge (fraud) market.

FCAC: What other types of merchandise scams do you see online?

Jeff Thomson: There is something called a continuity or a subscription trap scam. This is where you see a pop-up offer on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet. It may offer something like face creams or weight loss products, and it’s billed as a free trial. For example, they will say all you have to pay is $3.99 for the shipping. They take your credit card information and inform you that you may be billed $3.99 for one month, but then the next month that goes up to $100 or to $300. Sometimes people get billed multiple charges in a month. 

FCAC: You also mentioned the “buying and selling scams” – what are those?

Jeff Thomson: These occur when people try to sell things online. (For example) I listed some dressers for sale (part of a bedroom set) and the first contact I got was someone overseas who wanted to buy them really badly. They offered me $1,000 more than the asking price. This is where the modus operandi (of the fraudsters) gets tricky. Historically, they would send you a counterfeit cheque for more than the asking price and tell you to use the extra money to pay the shipper. But now, they send emails that look like a PayPal transfer of say, $1,800. But you can’t access the transfer right away. They say they need to see the shipping code in order to release the funds. Of course, once you ship the product, the payment never materializes. It looked like the funds were there, but they weren’t.

FCAC: So basically, be extremely wary of anyone offering you more than your asking price?

Jeff Thomson: Correct. 

FCAC: Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise with us.

Jeff Thomson: You’re welcome.

Tips to protect yourself from online merchandise scams

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre offers young people the following tips:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
  • Beware of pop-ups that direct you away from the current website
  • Consumers should verify the URL and seller contact information 
  • Search for any warnings posted online and read reviews before making a purchase
  • Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are signs of a fraudulent website
  • Use a credit card when shopping online. Consumers are offered fraud protection and may receive a refund. If you have received anything other than the product you ordered, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is the central agency in Canada that collects information and criminal intelligence on all kinds of fraud. It is a joint collaboration between the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police, and the Competition Bureau. If you think you have been a victim of fraud, here are some steps you should take. You can also contact the Canadians Anti-Fraud Centre toll-free at 1-888-495-8501.

For more information on protecting yourself from frauds and scam, visit


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