Online Shopping: How to Protect Yourself

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Do you know how to avoid fraud (called "scams") when you shop online? Here are some tips to follow.

 1.   Watch Out for the Warning Signs

Here are some things to watch out for when you shop online:

  • Prices that are too good to be true. You might not get the product you think you're buying.
  • The website is not well made or looks unprofessional.
  • The site asks for your banking or credit card information before you even buy anything.

For more information, go to the Government of Canada website.

2.   Check Out the Merchant

  • Get information about the merchant from other websites.

For Quebec merchants, you can find out whether they have a proper licence and if there are any complaints against them.

Visit the website of the Office de la protection du consommateur (consumer protection bureau). Go to the section "Get information about a merchant" and enter the merchant's name. (The search tool gives results in French only.)

  • Make sure a Quebec merchant is listed with the Registraire des entreprises (registrar of businesses). Go to the registrar's website. Click on "Find an enterprise" and enter the merchant's name. (The search tool gives results in French only.)
  • Make sure that the merchant clearly tells you about its policy on returns, exchanges and refunds.

The Office de la protection du consommateur suggests that you call the merchant. The law says the merchant must give you its address, phone number and other contact information.

 3.    Make Sure the Merchant Uses a Secure Payment Service (for example, Paypal)

  • Look for a lock or key sign either at the top of your computer screen next to the website address, or at the bottom of your screen in the right corner. The sign should be either a closed lock or an unbroken key. 
  • Make sure that the website address begins with "https." The "s" means that the site is secure.

The law says merchants must keep your personal information confidential, especially your credit card number.

4.    Give Out Only Necessary Information

Give out only the information that's needed to make your purchase. For example, you can give this information:

  • your name, address and contact information
  • your credit card number (if you're paying online)

As a general rule, a merchant can't ask you for your Social Insurance Number (SIN).

5.    Be Careful When You Pay

Before paying, make sure the merchant tells you exactly what you have to pay, including: 

  • taxes and other fees
  • whether the price is in Canadian or U.S. dollars, or the money of another country 
  • any other charges

The merchant can't make you pay the full price right away, unless you're paying by credit card or you're buying any of these things:

  • a subscription to a magazine or a newspaper
  • a trip from a travel agent who has a special account called a "trust account"
  • some goods or services sold by the government

Check your bank statements. Make sure that the amount taken out of your account is exactly what the merchant told you it would cost.

6.   Buying From People or Merchants Outside Quebec

If you're buying something from a person or from a merchant outside Quebec, be twice as careful! Quebec law doesn't protect you in these cases. You'll have a harder time trying to solve any problem you might have. Here are some extra precautions to take:

Before You Complete the Transaction:

  • Make sure you know how to contact the seller in case there's a problem. Before you pay, send an e-mail to the seller asking for his or her phone number and address.
  • If possible, pay the seller in person at the time he or she gives you the item or provides the service.

When Buying From a Merchant in Another Country

  • Find out whether you're allowed to bring the product into Canada and whether there are any additional charges you'll have to pay, for example, duties, broker's fees and similar charges that might apply to purchases from other countries.

For more information, contact the Canadian Border Services Agency or the Competition Bureau

For on-line auctions (for example, eBay), the Government of Canada makes these suggestions:

  • Check out the reviews on the seller. If more than a few of the reviews are negative, avoid this seller.
  • Read the terms and conditions as well as the privacy policy very carefully.
  • Pay by credit card (not cheque or money order).

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.