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2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report: Online scams rise during COVID-19 pandemic

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(© Alexander Borisenko –

More scams were perpetrated online and yielded the highest likelihood of financial loss in 2020.

Online scams rise during COVID-19 pandemic: 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report, focuses on the impact of scams in the wake of the pandemic and the demographic groups most at risk.

The susceptibility to scams is connected to consumer habit shifts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a survey of over 5,000 individuals that reported scams to BBB Scam TrackerSM in 2020, 43.1 percent said they spent more time online due to the pandemic, and 57.1 percent said they purchased more online because of the pandemic.

Adults ages 18–24 reported the highest median losses ($150) and the highest likelihood of loss (56.6 percent) to BBB Scam TrackerSM in 2020, according to the Better Business Bureau. Previously, older age groups consistently lost higher median dollar amounts to scammers year over year, even while young adults tended to lose money more often.

This year, the financial loss reported by those 18-24 was equal to that of adults 65+.

“Scammers go where they feel they can best take advantage of people,” said Melissa Lanning Trumpower, executive director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, BBB’s educational foundation, which produced the report. “Not surprisingly, scams perpetrated online through websites and social media apps were the riskiest contact methods for all age groups in 2020 – including both young adults as well as older adults.”

The risk of financial loss also rose significantly in 2020. Nearly one of every two reports to BBB Scam Tracker (46.7 percent) noted a financial loss, with two-thirds of reports (64.7 percent) resulting in a financial loss being online purchase scams, which was the top riskiest scam in 2020.

Online purchase scams were the most common scam reported to BBB, comprising 38.3 percent of all scam reports. Pet and PPE-related online purchase scams spiked during the pandemic.

“Scammers are opportunists,” said Julie Wheeler, president and CEO of BBB Serving Western Virginia. “If there is a shortage of a product, or an opportunity to leverage a person’s heightened emotional state – they will use that scarcity or fear for their personal gain. Scammers will also imposter a recognizable and respected organization or brand to get your attention.”

Government Agency Imposter scams ranked number scam in 2020 in our local service area with 131 reports filed to BBB Scam Tracker. Online purchase scams ranked second 113) and phishing scams dropped from the top scam type in 2019 to the third most reported scam category in 2020.  The average dollar amount lost for our local area $6,722, a 26 percent decrease from 2019 ($9,125). Our area reported more scams to BBB Scam Tracker in 2020 (711) than in 2019 (524).

Another way scammers take advantage of younger adults, in particular, is by utilizing a payment method less familiar to younger generations: checks.

Fake check scams were the second most risky scam for adults ages 18-24 in a year where payment via online payment systems rose across all age groups. Fake check scams yielded one of the highest median dollar losses per encounter at $1,679 in 2020.

“Scams aren’t just a drain to people’s wallets,” Wheeler noted. “In our annual study of individuals that reported a scam to BBB Scam Tracker, a majority reported losing time and confidence or peace of mind in the marketplace, with over one-third also losing personally identifiable information in the encounter. We share these insights to help fight fraud and promote a trustworthy marketplace for all.”


For more highlights from Online scams rise during COVID-19 pandemic: 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report, visit

Go to to report a scam, learn more about other risky scams on and visit our scam news feed.

augusta free press
augusta free press
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