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The countdown is underway. The parties have begun. Some attitudes are naughty while others are quite nice. And the shopping frenzy is fervent. Christmas IS coming. With that being said, throughout the holiday joy and festive cheer, we still have to protect ourselves by looking after our finances during this time. Holiday Fraud is very, very real.

A recent nationally representative online survey (of 1,000 Canadian respondents age 18+) conducted by Capital One Canada, uncovered Canadians’ attitudes and behaviors regarding their credit score, fraud and how they are keeping tabs on their personal information — especially during the busy holiday shopping season. Over three-quarters of Canadians (78 per cent) believe that the holidays are a riskier time to shop, which is completely understandable as our credit and debit cards see more transactions than usual. In addition, 15 per cent of Canadians believed Cyber Monday was a riskier day to shop online vs Black Friday. Consequently, online shopping does bring with it, certain risks. Despite the belief that holidays are a riskier time to shop, almost half of Canadians that responded to the survey (44 per cent), stated they will not use an online tool to protect themselves against holiday fraud. In the United States, 85 percent of Americans believe the holidays are a riskier time to shop, as well.

One of the biggest fears during this high-volume shopping season is identity theft and financial fraud. Thirty-two per cent of Canadians said identity theft and financial fraud are their number one concern throughout the holiday season – surpassing their fear of spending too much. What is the difference between identity and transaction fraud? Transaction fraud is when your credit card was used to make fraudulent transactions (transactions you didn’t authorize). Identity fraud is when someone steals your information and uses it fraudulently (for example, pretending to be you and applying for a new card, or changing information on your existing card). Fraud can range in severity. The lowest level of fraud is a one-off fraudulent charge or double charge. Mid-level fraud consists of theft of a credit card number and/or PIN which can lead to a large number of fraudulent charges. And high-level fraud is identity theft where fraudsters get a hold of personal information and pose as the victim to gain control of their funds or set up new credit in their name. While some Canadians are concerned about stolen identity issues and money loss, 33 per cent stated they will not take any additional measures to protect themselves this season. However, very few will take meaningful steps to protect their identity and finances.

The unfortunate reality is that 31 per cent of Canadians know someone who was a victim or were themselves a victim of fraud during the holidays, primarily as a result of credit card fraud (55 per cent) and identity theft (25 per cent). More than half of Canadians who know a victim or were themselves a victim of fraud during the holidays feel like they could use more help with protection from fraud. But even more, people want to understand how to detect credit fraud. Some people say that it was because an organization that had their personal or financial information experienced a data breach. This could explain why 66 per cent of them dislike when stores force them to save credit card info on their sites.

So, what steps can we take to protect ourselves from fraud during the festive season? Consumers should be vigilant when making purchases or sharing information. Don’t become a statistic this holiday season.

Here are some High-Level Consumer Fraud Prevention Tips: - Take advantage of the monitoring services provided by your credit issuers. - Vigilantly monitor your bills. - Protect your PIN when shopping in-store. - Only make online purchases from trusted websites. - Be suspicious of emails or phone calls asking for your personal information.

The most obvious sign of fraud is seeing purchases on your debit or credit card account that you didn’t make. Rather than waiting until your statement arrives, many banks and credit card companies let customers sign up for instant purchase notifications, which are an easy way to be alerted immediately when your card is used. If you didn’t make the purchase, you can quickly take steps to shut down the card and get a new one.

A second sign is having someone open a new account or card in your name. The best way to spot this is to consistently monitor your credit and credit score and sign up for a free service like Credit Keeper from Capital One.

While the holiday season seems to always arrive at record-breaking speed and is short yet sweet, don’t let yourself be affected or impacted in a negative way. Take the steps to protect yourself from identity theft and financial fraud.

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