A Canada Goose vest under the Christmas tree might seem like a pretty nice gift — unless it’s stuffed with feathers from diseased birds and trimmed with fur from dogs.
That’s the risk you assume if you buy online from a fraudulent retailer, warns Daniel Williams, a senior call-taker supervisor with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Williams said the Internet is rife with illegitimate websites offering popular consumer products at discounted prices. The products they send are usually substandard, and in some cases even dangerous.
“Counterfeit goods are a massive problem,” said Williams, citing Canada Goose clothing as one of many products that are poorly replicated by illegal manufacturers in places like China.
Canada Goose Inc.’s own website cautions consumers about such fakes. The company said these have been found to contain material with bacteria, fungus or mildew that pose health risks, and the clothing may not provide adequate protection against the cold.
Last year, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 2,876 complaints of Internet retail fraud, which translated into total losses of more than $2.8 million. Williams pointed out that only about one to five per cent of victims actually file reports with the centre, so these figures understate the severity of the problem.
Particularly vulnerable are consumers who go online in search of a high-end products at cheap prices. Key words like “sale” or “lowest price” are likely to take them to a fraudulent website that’s been carefully designed to appear genuine.
Even the products shipped might seem authentic under a casual inspection, said Williams.
“What they’re hoping for is that you don’t dispute it right away with your credit card company, or with your bank that issued the credit card, because of course if you do that properly and in timely manner, you do get your money back.”
Red Deer RCMP Cpl. Leanne Molzahn said her detachment doesn’t receive a lot of complaints about online retail fraud. As for tips to avoid getting stung, she deferred to Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
The centre urges due diligence when buying from Internet sites, including research into the business before making a purchase. It also suggests dealing with companies that you know by reputation or past experience, and being wary of unreasonably low prices.
Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors on a website are tip-offs that it could be fraudulent, as are the use of web-based email like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo.
Williams also pointed out that legitimate retail websites sometimes turn bad, perhaps following a change in ownership.
“If you’ve been defrauded, make as much noise as possible,” he said, suggesting complaints to his centre and to the bank that issued the credit card used.
That can help shut the illegal site down, although it’s likely to reappear elsewhere.
“It’s an ongoing problem.”
The Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner has also issued a warning about cyber-crooks. Jill Clayton urged careful research into online merchants, and efforts to ensure that their websites are secure.
She also suggested using low-limit credit cards with guarantees against online fraud.
Williams said online fraud is likely to increase as more people turn to the Internet to do their shopping.
“Criminals are the first to embrace new technology.”