Shopping online can be fast and convenient, but it can also leave you open to scams unless you know how to protect yourself. Auction rip-offs, purchase scams, spam and phishing (an unsolicited email that tries to con users out of personal information) are all popular tricks used by scammers.

Unlike in-person shopping where you can get a feel for a store and its personnel, with online shopping there are less clues to help you figure out if the site is trustworthy. Here are some tips to help you shop more safely:

Know who you are dealing with

Reputable online merchants post plenty of information about themselves, including their location, phone number, fax number, and other details. You should also look for:

  • Links to legitimate reviews.
  • Membership in organizations that guarantee standards, such as industry associations or the Better Business Bureau.
  • Certificates or seals of quality.
  • Other purchase options (by phone, at store locations or through a catalogue, for example).

Know exactly what you are buying

The vendor should give enough information for you to really know what you are buying. This includes details such as the size, colour, weight and texture of the product.

Know what you are agreeing to

Every time you choose to buy something online you are entering into a contract. Any reputable vendor will give you the terms of this contract on its website. Read them and keep a copy for your reference. Insist on:

  • Information detailed and complete enough for you to understand the terms of sale.
  • A description of the company’s privacy policy and security features.
  • An explanation of how the company handles complaints and returns.
  • A delivery date for your product(s).

Know what you are paying

Be aware of all charges before you pay for your goods and services online. Your total price should include tax and shipping and handling. Also remember:

  • You might have to pay for customs and border fees if you buy things from companies in other countries, so make sure you get an estimate of what those charges might be before you pay for your order. These fees can be expensive. For more information on fees, contact the Competition Bureau.
  • Don’t forget to account for the exchange rate. The charge on your credit card will probably be different from the final price because of the exchange rate.

Know what information you are giving to the vendor and why

Never deal with vendors that do not post a privacy policy. For many online vendors, your personal information is as important as your money. Make sure you know why vendors are asking for information, and how they intend to use it. Consider whether it is reasonable for the vendor to use your information in this way.

Canadian companies are subject to privacy laws. For more information, contact the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Know when to be concerned

It is also good to be aware of tricks that no reputable vendor would use. Seriously consider abandoning your order if the vendor does any of the following:

  • Asks for credit card information before allowing you to enter a site.
  • Tries to rush you into a decision.
  • Presents incredible savings—offers that sound too good to be true usually are.
  • Sends spam emails. Most good companies will ask if you want to be added to a mailing list at some point during your order, but spam emails are different. They can hide computer viruses so don’t reply to them and delete them.
  • Use “browser traps”—these include tricks 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 get out of a site. Do not do business with vendors who use these techniques and never make a purchase to get out of the trap.
  • Does not provide the terms and conditions on its site, or provides terms and conditions that are so complicated and detailed that they’re impossible to understand.

Online Shopping by Children and Teens

Kids and teens may be tricked into buying items that are not as big, not as much fun as they looked online, or of poor quality because they don’t have as much experience as adult shoppers. Young people often do not understand the real or entire cost of some purchases. They may also give out personal information without realizing the consequences. Teach them to be aware of the risks and show them how to protect themselves when buying online.

Here are links to some websites that can help you and your family become Internet savvy:

Online Auctions

Online auctions can be risky. Here are some tips to avoid being scammed:

  • Know what you’re buying and get a description of the item in writing so you have a concrete basis for a complaint in case the product does not meet your expectations when you receive it.
  • When you buy from a private individual, consumer protection laws may not protect you. Read the rules of the auction site: scrupulous sites will keep records of customer satisfaction and should also have dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Look at other buyer reviews. Most good auction sites have a review system in place. If a seller doesn’t have a lot of good reviews or has a lot of bad ones, don’t buy from them.

Buying Internationally

Remember, buying from other countries can be riskier because laws and standards aren’t the same everywhere. This can make it harder to resolve issues if something goes wrong. Here are some things you can do before you buy:

  • 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, taxes, duty and converting to Canadian dollars.
  • Make sure that the product you buy is safe. To find out what the Canadian safety standards are for the item you plan to purchase, visit the Canadian Standards Association’s international website.

If you have a problem with a foreign online vendor, report the incident to This is a reporting service run by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network on behalf of 36 consumer protection agencies around the world.

Competition Bureau Canada

Head Office

50 Victoria Street

Gatineau, Quebec  K1A 0C9

Telephone: 819-997-4282
Toll Free: 1-800-348-5358
Phone (TTY): 1-800-642-3844
Fax: 819-997-0324

Canada Border Services Agency

Canada Border Services Agency

Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0L8

Telephone: 1-800-461-9999 (English)
Telephone: 1-800-959-2036 (French)




1707-94 Street North West

Edmonton, Alberta  T6N 1E6

Telephone: 780-450-2111
Fax: 780-461-5322


13799 Commerce Parkway

Richmond, British Columbia  V6V 2N9

Telephone: 604-273-4581
Fax: 604-244-6600


178 Rexdale Boulevard

Toronto, Ontario  M9W 1R3

Telephone: 416-747-4000
Telephone: 1 866 797-4272
Fax: 416-747-4149

Pointe Claire

865 Ellingham Avenue

Pointe Claire, Quebec  H9R 5E8

Telephone: 514-694-8110
Fax: 514-694-5001



Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

112 Kent Street
Place de Ville
Tower B, 3rd Floor

Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 1H3

Telephone: (613) 947-1698
Toll Free: 1-800-282-1376
Phone (TTY): (613) 992-9190
Fax: (613) 947-6850

Provincial and Territorial Consumer Affairs Offices


Service Alberta, Consumer Contact Centre
3rd Floor Commerce Place
10155-102 Street

Edmonton, Alberta  T5J 4L4

Telephone: 780-427-4088
Toll Free: 1-877-427-4088


British Columbia

Consumer Protection BC
#307-3450 Uptown Blvd
PO Box 9244

Victoria, British Columbia  V8W 9J2

Telephone: 604-320-1667
Toll Free: 1-888-564-9963
Fax: 250-920-7181



Consumer Protection Office, Manitoba Justice
302-258 Portage Avenue

Winnipeg, Manitoba  R3C 0B6

Telephone: 204-945-3800
Toll Free: 1-800-782-0067
Fax: 204-945-0728


New Brunswick

Financial and Consumer Services Commission
225 King Street, Suite 200

Fredericton, New Brunswick  E3B 1E1

Toll Free: 1-866-933-2222
Fax: 506-444-4494


Newfoundland and Labrador

Service NL
PO Box 8700

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador  A1B 4J6

Telephone: 709-729-2600
Toll Free: 1-877-968-2600
Fax: 709-729-6998


Northwest Territories

Consumer Affairs, Department of Municipal and Community Affairs
5201-50th Avenue, Suite 600
PO Box 1320

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories  X1A 2L9

Telephone: 867-767-9161 ext 21022
Fax: 867-873-0309


Nova Scotia

Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Public Enquiries
Mail Room, 8 South
Maritime Centre
1505 Barrington Street

Halifax, Nova Scotia  B3J 3K5

Telephone: 902-424-5200
Toll Free: 1-800-670-4357
Fax: 902-424-0720



Consumer Affairs, Department of Community and Government Services
3090 – 9th Street
P.O. Box 440

Baker Lake, Nunavut  X0C 0A0

Telephone: 867-793-3303
Toll Free: 1-866-223-8139
Fax: 867-793-3321



Consumer Protection Ontario, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
Box 450
1201 Wilson Ave, Station A

Toronto, Ontario  M3M 1J8

Telephone: 416-326-8800
Toll Free: 1-800-889-9768
Phone (TTY): 416-229-6086
Phone (TTY) 2: 1-877-666-6545
Fax: 416-326-8665


Prince Edward Island

Consumer Services, Department of Justice and Public Safety
Shaw Building, 4th Floor
95 Rochford Street
PO Box 2000

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island  C1A 7N8

Telephone: 902-368-4580
Telephone: 902-368-4550
Toll Free: 1-800-658-1799
Fax: 902-368-5283



Office de la protection du consommateur
400 Jean-Lesage Boulevard, Suite 450

Québec, Quebec  G1K 8W4

Telephone: 418-643-1484
Toll Free: 1-888-672-2556
Fax: 418-528-0976


Consumer Services, Department of Community Services
307 Black Street

Whitehorse, Yukon  Y1A 2N1

Telephone: 867-667-5111
Toll Free: 1-800-661-0408 ext. 5111
Fax: 867-667-3609