How to give and receive digital gifts safely

With the rise of digital gift-giving, some of today’s best presents don’t even come with wrapping paper. Digital gifts like gift cards, digital currency for apps and games and even e-transfers are an easy and convenient way to get something special for the ones you care about.

Unfortunately, the holidays are an active time for cyber criminals who are looking to take advantage of your online activity and purchases. Before you start redirecting your friends and family from looking under the tree to checking their inboxes for presents instead, here are some things you should know to protect yourself online.

Buy your digital gifts from reputable and secure sources

If you’re buying digital gifts, make sure you’re purchasing from reputable stores or distributors. Purchase digital gifts from direct sources rather than third-party sellers. If you do purchase from a third-party seller, make sure that it’s from somewhere that you recognize and trust. Avoid purchasing digital gifts from places like social media marketplaces where it may be difficult to verify the validity of your item.

It's also important to make sure that the website you’re buying from is secure. Cyber criminals will often create spoofed websites that are made to mimic legitimate retailers. You can identify a spoofed site by looking out for suspicious signs like:

  • deals that are too good to be true
  • typos in the URL
  • pixelated company logos and images
  • unlocked or crossed out padlock icon (sometimes a caution symbol) at the front of the URL
  • URL starting with http (a secure encrypted website should use https)
  • a missing return policy

Spoofed sites may be difficult to navigate and have a suspicious billing process as well. You should never make purchases from websites that ask for too much information. A shopping website should not ask for sensitive information like your SIN or your mother’s maiden name. Keep track of your credit card statements over the holidays and immediately notify your financial institution of any suspicious activity on your account.

Don’t get hooked by a phishing message when receiving a digital gift

Digital gifts are often delivered electronically, like by email or text message, so it’s important to be aware of phishing and learn how to spot the red flags.  Phishing is one of the most common cyber threats. It’s a cyber criminal’s attempt  to steal your personal and financial information by pretending to be a legitimate sender like someone you know or an online store.
Phishing is especially common during the holiday season, cyber criminals may send phishing messages claiming that you received a digital gift from a loved one. The message might ask you for personal information, to download a file or to click on a link to redeem your gift. Consider the following signs that it might be a phishing message.

  • The gifter - is it someone that you would typically receive a gift from?
    • if you’re unsure, contact the gifter through another means, like a phone call, and ask if the gift is legitimate
  • Sender’s email - cyber criminals  can change the way their email address and name appear in your inbox
    • verify the legitimacy of the email address by hovering your mouse over the sender’s email address and look closely for differences in the address (like the use of numbers instead of characters)
      • compare the email address to the contact information on the online store’s official website, or in the case of a friend, by the email address you have saved in your contacts
  • A gift too good to be true – if you’re being “gifted” an all-inclusive trip to the tropics, being “transferred” thousands of dollars or “receiving” high amounts of money in electronic gift cards, it’s likely a scam

These offers may sound extremely appealing, especially over the holidays but clicking, downloading, or sending money may result in identify or financial loss. When in doubt about the legitimacy of a digital gift, or if you can’t verify its legitimacy, delete it. Don’t provide any personal information, open any attachments or click on any links. If you think you may be a victim of a phishing scam, you can contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or call 1-888-495-8501


No matter what you’re purchasing online this holiday season, make sure you’re doing it securely. Whether you’re giving, receiving or treating yourself to something special, it’s important to protect yourself so you don’t get scammed. For more information on safe gift giving, use our Get Cyber Safe gift guide when you buy a smart device or anything else online.

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