Online shopping and auctions are quick and convenient ways to make purchases, but they can also expose you to fraud unless you know how to protect yourself.
Unlike in-person shopping, which gives you an idea of the store and its staff, online shopping and auctions offer fewer clues as to whether the site or seller is trustworthy.
Before you confirm your online purchase or make a bid, know how to protect yourself.
On this page
- Finding legitimate online merchants
- Checking online product information
- Entering an online purchase contract
- Making international online purchases
- Recognizing potential online transaction scams
- Protecting yourself from online auctions and bidding scams
- Online safety resources
Finding legitimate online merchants
Before making online purchases, make sure you are dealing with reliable, legitimate online merchants.
Check for the online vendor's:
- Physical location and contact information (i.e., address, email address, telephone number)
- Terms of sale as well as shipping, complaints, return and exchange policies
- Links to legitimate merchant reviews
- Membership to industry associations or the Better Business Bureau
Canadian companies are subject to privacy laws. For more information, visit the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's website.
Checking online product information
Reliable online merchants should provide detailed and accurate information about their products and services to help you make an informed buying decision.
That information includes:
- Product details such as the size, colour, weight, and material of the product
- Condition of the item—whether it's new, in the original package, refurbished or used
- Price, including shipping and handling costs
- Certificate or seal of quality when applicable
Remember to save or print this product information. Should you buy the item and be dissatisfied with the transaction, product or service, you will need this information when making a complaint.
Entering an online purchase contract
You enter into a contract when you choose to buy a product online. Any reputable vendor will provide the terms of this contract on its website. Read them and keep a copy for your reference.
Make sure the online merchant provides:
- Complete and understandable terms of sale
- An explanation of how the company handles shipping, complaints, returns and exchanges
- Secure payment options
- A delivery date for your product
Making international online purchases
Buying online from other countries can be riskier because consumer protection laws and standards may not be the same as those in Canada. Resolving issues may be difficult if something goes wrong.
Here are some things you can do before you buy from another country:
- Check the Canada Border Services Agency website to find out about what you can have shipped into the country.
- When calculating the price, factor in shipping and handling costs and taxes.
- Make sure you get an estimate of customs and duties before you pay for your order—they may be expensive. For more information on fees, visit the Canada Border Services Agency website.
- Don't forget to account for the exchange rate. Use the Bank of Canada's Currency Converter for daily exchange rate conversions.
- Verify if the product is safe. To find out what the Canadian safety standards are for the item you plan to purchase, visit the CSA Group website.
If you have a problem with a foreign online vendor, consider reporting the incident to econsumer.gov. This reporting service, run by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), helps authorities to spot trends and combat fraud.
Recognizing potential online transaction scams
To protect yourself and your financial information, be aware of common tricks and scams that disreputable online sellers, or fraudsters, may use.
Consider walking away from a potential transaction if the online vendor:
- Asks for credit card information before allowing you to enter a secure website
- Tries to rush you into making a buying decision
- Sends spam emails—they can hide computer viruses (Do not reply to them and delete them.)
- Uses "browser traps" like disabling your browser's "back" button, opening new windows every time you try to close one, or other tactics that make it hard for you to exit a website
- Does not provide the terms and conditions on its website
- Provides terms and conditions that are so complicated and detailed that they're impossible to understand
Find more information on the risks of shopping and online auctions page.
Protecting yourself from online auctions and bidding scams
When you buy from a private individual online, consumer protection laws may not protect you.
Learn how you can protect yourself from online auctions scams.
Online safety resources
For additional resources to help you and your family protect yourselves when shopping online, visit:
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