The holidays are a time to relax, eat too much food and spend quality time with family. Unfortunately, it's also when fraudsters work overtime to try and part you with your money or steal your credit card details.

That's not a holiday "gift" anyone has on their list. Wondering what can you do to avoid fake websites so you don't ring in the new year updating all your payment details with your credit card number?

We'll walk you through the different types of scam websites, how to check if a website is legit and how to report a scam website so you can better navigate scammers' attempts to defraud you — and win.

What is a scam website?

Scam websites are any websites used to deceive consumers like you. They might be websites impersonating popular online retailers, websites for fake companies that don't exist or websites advertising high quality items, but sending poor quality knockoffs – or not sending anything at all.

The goals of scam websites vary, but some of the common scams they might try

  • Steal your credit card or other financial information and then do some shopping on their own.
  • Capture your login credentials to use on another site or app.
  • Rip you off by promising high quality goods, only to send a knockoff with little value.
  • Get you to pay them money and then never send you the product.
  • Load malware (malicious software) on your computer.

The scammers who run spoofed (fake) websites can take any form — from highly organized multi-national criminal networks to a one-person operation run by someone who lives down the street. Their goal is to take advantage of an existing vulnerability or the fact that you're distracted by your long holiday to-do list to steal as much as they can from you.

Other holiday scams to avoidWhile fake websites are one way scammers target consumers over the holidays, there are also a number of other common scams you'll have to avoid. From delivery scams to gift card scams, we cover everything you need to know to protect yourself.

Learn to spot the fakes

Whether you received an email or text about a sale and clicked a link, misspelled the domain in the address bar, or clicked an ad shared on social media – it important to learn how to spot the fakes. To help you sleep well this holiday season, we’ve listed the different types of fake websites you could come by and how to check to see if they're legit. It's easy to avoid phishing scams and identity theft when you know what to do.

Website impersonating a popular online retailer

  • These websites look very similar to popular retailers, often making it difficult to tell the difference to those who aren’t paying close attention.
  • Websites that impersonate a popular retailer are usually trying to get your money, your credit card info or your login credentials for the real website.
  • Since many people save their credit card details on their preferred retailer’s websites, scammers can login with your credentials, max out your credit cards online, and have those shipped to an intermediary.

Website for a fake company

  • Websites for companies that don't exist are trying to get you to buy non-existent products from them that they'll never ship to you.
  • These types of websites can vary in quality — some looking obviously sketchy on first glance, while others seem like any other normal website.
  • They're generally trying to get your money and run with it before you realize it was a scam. They also might be harvesting (gathering), credit card information or other personal details to purchase items elsewhere.

Websites that sell knock offs

  • These websites play on your desire to buy the absolute best gift by showing you amazing products for a very low price.
  • Often the product images have been stolen from retailer websites and passed off as their own.
  • Although you think you got a deal, you may just get a knockoff product or nothing at all. 

How to tell

It can often be hard to identify malicious websites as some fake websites are mirror images of real ones. How easy these scams are to decode also depends on how much work scammers put into making the fake website or companies. The good news is, even the realistic ones usually have signs to warn you it's fake. If you see any of the below flags, go directly to a search bar or trusted search engine or type in the URL yourself to navigate to the proper page:

  • The website URL starts with “http” instead of “https” (the “s” stands for secure) and does not display a tiny padlock icon in the address bar
  • The site looks poorly designed, unprofessional, and has broken links
  • Missing company information, like location, contact, privacy or return/exchange information
  • Missing website elements, like a chat box or limited product pages
  • Sales, return, and privacy policies are hard to find or unclear
  • The back button is disabled, and you get stuck on a page and can't go back
  • You're asked for credit card information anytime other than when you’re making a purchase
  • Wrong or misspelled domain names
  • A different domain ending, such as .org rather than .com
  • Urgent messaging telling you to act now
  • Unbelievable deals
  • Unexpected page elements, such as aggressive pop-ups on a site that doesn't typically have them
  • Product photos that don't have a consistent style
  • Spelling mistakes or bad grammar

What to do if you get scammed online shopping?

If you realize you've been scammed from a fraudulent website, it's important to take action right away. Here's what you should do:

  • Contact your credit card issuer or other payment processor and tell them there was a fraudulent charge. Ask them to reverse the transaction.
  • While you're on the phone, have them check to see if the scammers have made other charges that you need to have those reversed, too, and then cancel your credit card.
  • If you gave the scammers your login information for a website or another online account, change your password immediately.
  • Run a malware and virus scanner on your computer.

Reporting a fake website

After you've done all you can to manage the damage the scammers might cause, and you've made some hot chocolate to cozy up by the television yule log, you'll want to report the website to save other people the same headache.

1. Gather all the info you have about the website, including screenshots of web pages, URLs and details about how you found it.

2. Contact local police if you suspect the scammers are targeting local consumers and report the online scam. If you think it is a broader scam, alert other relevant law enforcement.

3. Report the fake website to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or the Competition Bureau.

Enjoy your holiday

Having to cancel credit cards, navigate fraud reporting websites and frantically find a replacement gift isn't how anyone wants to spend their holiday. But, if you follow these steps to avoid scam websites, you're more likely to have a non-eventful holiday where the only crime committed against you is having to listen to your uncle's off-key rendition of a well-loved holiday song.