12/24/2013 12:13 EST | Updated 02/23/2014 05:59 EST

Five Tips to Avoid a Counterfeit Christmas

With the average Canadian expecting to spend $678 dollars on gifts this season, retail stores are staffing up in preparation for the last minute rush of holiday shoppers looking for that perfect gift at the perfect price. But retailers aren't the only ones getting ready -- nefarious and greedy counterfeiters are stocking shelves and online sites with knock-off products to dupe the Canadian consumer.

Here in Canada, counterfeit products have been creeping into the market with great momentum; in fact, the RCMP has seen an upward trend in the number of documented cases involving counterfeit and pirated goods from 11.5 per cent in 2005 to 30.4 per cent in 2012.

To support these findings, over the past three months (August - November of this year), Toronto Police spearheaded the pulling of $6.5 million of counterfeit goods from retail shelves and websites in the GTA, South Simcoe and Windsor, including counterfeit contact lenses, ice wine and pharmaceuticals. Dubbed Project PACE (Partners Against Counterfeiting Everywhere), this enforcement shows the magnitude of the problem.

With such a saturation of counterfeit in the market, Canadian consumers must keep vigilant in order to be safe and protect against supporting major criminal enterprises.

While counterfeit products usually come with a compelling price point they also come with great dangers. Last year alone, the RCMP investigated over 200 cases of harmful counterfeit products which included toys with lead paint, pharmaceuticals with no active ingredients or traceable poisons, electronics which were not certified, batteries which leaked acid and even perfume which contained urine -- literally l'eau de toilette. Not gifts you want under your tree.

That said, don't be a victim of counterfeit this holiday season, stay safe in store and online with these five simple tips:

1. Do your research-- Buy from trusted retailers.

Take some time to find out what you're buying and who you're buying it from. Listen to word of mouth, check references, and get insight from experienced and trusted retailers.

2. Compare the price - If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

Everyone loves a good deal, but one secret when looking for a deal is making sure the sale on a quality product is reasonable and not alarmingly low, which could be a potential red flag.

3. Look for the flaws - If something looks off, walk away.

Counterfeiters might be good at producing replicas, but there are usually subtle differences in the packaging of the goods, sometimes including spelling mistakes, colour variation or the quality of the packaging.

4. Protect your plastic - Cap your credit.

When shopping online, have one dedicated credit card with a low limit that is used only for online purchases. This allows you to easily spot any suspicious charges and limits the amount of money a scammer could take.

5. Get a proper receipt - Cash purchases need a record.

Receipts should detail exactly who you are dealing with, what you bought and how to contact the seller - check them out.

If you believe you are a victim of fraud, please contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center at 1-888-495-8501 or Canadian Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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