With Cyber Monday just around the corner, it's a good time to warn consumers and business people alike of the growing number of online shopping scams.
One of the most popular is the Canada Goose Coat Scam, which caught me flat-faced last year and which I wrote about in Dec. 2013. In short, I thought I'd found a fabulous deal on one of those ads that pops up on Facebook. A Canada Goose Expedition Parka, regularly $700 on sale for $287. When I clicked on the link, I was taken to something called the Winter Parka Outlet. The site had the Canada Goose logo. In fact, the company's trademarks were all over the site, along with other trademarks and professional photographs of people wearing the iconic coats in cold environments. There was free shipping and no tax presumably because the HST was incorporated in the price. I filled out the online information so the vendor had my residential address for credit card billing purposes and my office address for delivery purposes, just like Apple, Amazon and other online sales companies do. My order was confirmed by e-mail a few moments later in the usual way. But then I received an e-mail later that day that read, in poor English:
"Thanks for order on our website. There are two different addresses in your order. But according to credit card company's secure policy, it must be same information between your billing address and your parcel's shipping address. If you really want to ship your order to your shipping address, please e-mail us your scanned files of fronts of your ID card and credit card."
Now you're probably wondering why someone from Canada Goose or its dealers would request a scanned copy of my passport and drivers licence. This red flag prompted me to immediately cancel my Visa before the order was processed. Since then, my online shopping always involves doing homework on the vendor, and using a secondary credit card with a low monetary limit.
I discovered later that the Canada Goose Fake Coat Scam is famous despite the excellent job (the real) Canada Goose does to alert consumers to counterfeit products. The real Canada Goose allows consumers to enter the URL of the suspicious retailer in a search engine on their site to reveal if the retailer is authorized by Canada Goose or not. Other popular online vendors do the same.
The "Winter Parka Outlet" website has been radically changed since last year and is listed "for sale", but there are many others out there. That's because the counterfeiting business is big. Consumers love getting deals on expensive brands, and often fail to realize that what they're getting is stock from a sweatshop made by child labourers using inferior, unclean or even biologically contaminated filler 'pretending' to be goose down and with a fur collar made from raccoon or dog.
As I write this, I continue to see ads for Canada Goose jackets under $300 and $29 Ray-Ban sunglasses popping up on Facebook. Ads for miracle weight loss pills are everywhere, but remember, there are no miracle weight loss pills for the same reason that faith healers don't work in hospitals and psychics don't win the lottery every week. Whether it's in an e-mail to you, or on a social media platform like Facebook, if the price seems too good to be true, the goods are likely counterfeit.
E-mails that aren't caught by my spam filter offer Viagra, Rolex watches and a host of cheap electronic products, but they're only available if I 'click here' for more details (obviously phishing for my confirmed e-mail address). How did they get my address in the first place? I would bet that my Out Of Office assistant in Outlook automatically replied to their first e-mail.
Phishing scams are endemic. The RCMP has useful information here on how to spot a phishing expedition for those wanting more information on spotting the telltale signed of on-line shopping fraud. The Better Business Bureau also has information on phishing and shopping scams.
The RCMP says that disreputable online vendors would just as soon have your private information if they can't sell you a fake coat or diet pill.
Scams like this aren't confined to Facebook and e-mails. Globe Business writer Michael Babad recently wrote about the WestJet telephone scam, where a 'robocal' phones you to tell you you're such a valued WestJet customer, you've won a free flight on WestJet or a free holiday. "If you haven't got the call yet, where have you been?" says Babad "It's the most widespread scam I can remember." WestJet doesn't solicit by phone. The calls are an attempt to phish for your personal information. WestJet's blog says the fraudsters may use certain websites (see the company's blog) and recommends you report the calls to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website or by calling 1-888-495-8501, and warn your friends on social media about the scam
So whether you're online or on the phone, if you're asked to provide details beyond your name and address – like your date of birth, Social Insurance Number, or Mother's maiden name (a key security question which you should not disclose), you may soon be the victim of a scam.
Obviously the request for your username and password, driver's license number, personal identification numbers (PIN), bank account numbers and passport number should ring alarm bells and should never – repeat, never – be disclosed to an online or telephone vendor. If the requests are made by e-mail, in broken English, those bells should ring just a tad louder.
The vendor may well want your personal information to re-sell so that someone even more disreputable can access your bank accounts or open new ones in your name, transfer bank balances, apply for loans, credit cards and even passports or government benefits in your name.
So enjoy your online shopping in the next few weeks. Just remember that famous quote by Abraham Lincoln: "One shouldn't believe everything one reads just because they see it on the Internet." He might also have added: "or heard about it in a robocall."
Tony Wilson is a franchising, licensing and intellectual property lawyer at Boughton Law Corp. in Vancouver, he is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU), and he is the author of two books: Manage Your Online Reputation, and Buying a Franchise in Canada. His opinions do not reflect those of the Law Society of British Columbia, SFU or any other organization.