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4 scams to watch out for this holiday season

As shoppers gear up for the holiday season, police say fraudsters are also preparing to take advantage of those who aren't careful.

Frauds, scams spike this time of year, says RCMP

One scam, called SIM swapping, could allow fraudsters to gain access to the apps on your phone. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

As shoppers gear up for the holiday season, police say fraudsters are also preparing to take advantage of those who aren't careful.

The holidays are ripe for fraudulent activity, with various types of scams appearing around this time of year, according to Jeff Thomson, a senior intelligence analyst with the RCMP's fraud unit.

Here are some of the most common scams Thomson said people should watch out for.

SIM swapping

Thomson said the RCMP has seen a recent spike in identity theft through what's known as SIM swapping.

Fraudsters will send a phishing email, which appears to be from your service provider, offering you free data or something similar — and a link for you to claim your "prize."

The link asks for personal information to update your cellular account profile. Fraudsters will then contact your service provider and, using that information, gain access to your phone.

"If you have your bank accounts, your social media accounts, email accounts — they can now start to gain access to the accounts you have on your mobile device," Thomson said.

If you receive an email from your service provider with an offer, Thomson recommends calling them to verify it's real.

Evolving phone scams

This one might sound familiar: someone allegedly calls from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and demands payment for back taxes while threatening the victim with arrest.

Thomson said the RCMP are seeing a spike in these kinds of scams, but instead of the CRA, the fraudsters claim to be from Service Canada.

"The Service Canada scam I'm seeing as the evolution of the CRA scam," Thomson said.

Jeff Thomson is a senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Fraudsters tell victims their social insurance number (SIN) is compromised and then attempt a two-part scam.

First, they'll attempt to coax your name, date of birth, SIN and other personal information from you.

Then they'll say police or investigators need to follow up, which later turns into a demand for cash. Thomson said that usually takes the form of fraudsters telling victims to move money into a "safe account." 

Like with the CRA scam, Thomson said Canadian agencies wouldn't call and ask for personal information. 

Online shopping scams

As more and more shoppers turn to the internet to find that perfect holiday gift, fraudsters are taking notice.

Thomson said one scam comes in the form of an unbelievable offer for a wish-list item — but often it's counterfeit or of an inferior quality.

To avoid being duped, Thomson recommends only shopping at well-known websites, reading reviews on lesser-known ones first, and using payment programs that have credit card protection.

"If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is," he said.

Loan scams

This scam typically preys on victims looking for extra cash during the holidays.

Fraudsters offer loans, Thomson said, and then either take personal information or begin to demand payments.

Thomson advises people to be cautious and only seek loans from credible providers.

With files from Laura Osman

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