Consumers should take obvious measures to protect themselves in conventional stores, for example:

  • Not leaving a purse in an unguarded shopping cart
  • Protecting their PIN (personal identification number) at checkout
  • Not carrying large amounts of cash in their wallets

Online shoppers should also consider sensible precautions, which is the focus of this tutorial.


Here are some suggestions to help you avoid becoming a victim of online fraud:

  • Learn as much as possible about the product and seller
  • Use a secure checkout and payment process
  • Use credit vs. debit or check
  • Understand the retailers’ refund and return policies
  • If an offer sounds highly suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is

Learn as Much as Possible About the Product and Seller

Shoppers who are familiar with the merchants from whom they’re buying feel the most secure if they have had a good shopping experience history with that seller. But what about retailers that you haven’t used?

The Internet is a great way to find detailed information about retailers prior to doing business with them. Researching reviews and comments left by other shoppers about retailers and their products empowers you to make informed decisions prior to making a purchase.

Tip: Use your favorite search engine to research merchants or products, rather than going directly to the retailer’s site.

Use a Secure Checkout and Payment Process

When it comes to choosing which method to use for online payments, take precautions before entering credit card or checking account information.

The likelihood of your sensitive information being compromised increases each time you provide it to a new vendor. A safe and easy-to-use online payment service such as PayPal allows you to enter account information only once at a highly secure and reputable site.

The following items shown on your web browser will indicate a connection to a secure web site:

  • https:// The “s” that is displayed after “http” indicates that web site is secure. Often, you do not see the “s” until you actually move to the order page on the web site.
  • A closed padlock displayed at the bottom of your screen. If that lock is open, you should assume it is not a secure site.

Important: The lock icon is not just a picture! Click (or double-click) on the padlock to see details of the site’s security. This is important to know because some fraudulent web sites are built with a bar at the bottom of the web page to imitate the lock icon of your browser!

Use a Credit Card

E-commerce shopping by check or money order leaves you vulnerable to bank fraud. The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card.

Make sure your credit card is a credit card only and not a debit card, or a check card. As with checks, a debit card exposes your bank account to thieves. Your checking account could be wiped out in minutes. Further, debit cards are not protected to the extent that credit cards are by federal law.

Tip: You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. Please contact your credit card provider for more details.

Understand the Retailers’ Refund and Return Policies

Look for and ask about the refund and return policy.

Questions to ask include:

  • What is the required timeframe in which a buyer must contact the retailer and return the item?
  • Whether a full refund or a merchandise credit will be offered?
  • Whether an item that has been opened can be returned?

If no refund policy exists, look into buyer protection programs which might be offered by the retailer or your payment service provider.

These protection programs ensure that if there is a problem with a transaction, your payment will be covered or refunded as a result.

If it’s too Good to be True, it Probably is

As with any purchase, be sure to read the fine print (or, in some instances, click the links describing the purchase agreement.)

While Internet retailers frequently offer lower prices than conventional stores, be wary of unreasonably low bargain prices or unusually attractive promises.

The old adage is true: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!”


If you suspect or know that you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, or if you unwittingly provided personal information or financial information:

  • Step 1 – Contact your local police force and file a report.
  • Step 2 – Contact your bank/financial institution and credit card company
  • Step 3– Contact the two national credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
  • Step 4 – Always report identity theft and fraud. Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre


Prevention is the best way to deal with this crime:

  • Identity theft can occur over the Internet or telephone, or via fax or regular mail. Therefore, be particularly wary of unsolicited e-mails, telephone calls or mail attempting to extract personal or financial information from you.
  • Ask yourself if you really need all of the identity documents you carry in your wallet or purse. Remove any you don’t need and keep them in a secure place instead.
  • Periodically check your credit reports, bank and credit card statements and report any irregularities promptly to the relevant financial institution and to the credit bureaus.
  • During transactions, it’s safer to swipe your cards yourself than it is to allow a cashier to do it for you. If you must hand over your card, never lose sight of it.
  • Always shield your personal identification number when using an ATM or a PIN pad.
  • Memorize all personal identification numbers for payment cards and telephone calling cards. Never write them on the cards.
  • Familiarize yourself with billing cycles for your credit and debit cards.
  • Trash bins are a goldmine for identity thieves. Make sure you shred personal and financial documents before putting them in the garbage.
  • When you change your address, make sure you notify the post office and all relevant financial institutions (your bank and credit card companies).


Updated: 24 may 2023