Study: Online purchase scams surging in Western Virginia

better business bureauOnline purchase scams were among the top three riskiest scams for the last three years. With the 2020 holiday shopping season being full of uncertainty, online purchase scams are likely to grow.

Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia offers online shoppers tips this holiday season on how to avoid falling victim to these scams.

BBB’s in-depth investigative study finds that a staggering 80.5 percent of consumers reporting online purchase scams lost money, up from 24.3 percent in 2019, and a steady increase of 71.2 percent since 2015. The study — Online Purchase Scams Report 2020  — points to heightened risks from this scam as consumers continue to social distance and increase their online presence during the holiday season.

What is an online purchase scam?

Online purchase scams typically involve purchasing products and/or services where the transaction occurs via a website or other online means. Scammers utilize online technology to offer attractive deals, but no product or service is delivered once the payment is made. In another version, fraudsters pretend to purchase an item by sending a fake check and then asking for a refund of the “accidental” overpayment; by the time the victim realizes the check is bad, they’ve already sent the funds from their account.

Local impact

BBB Scam Tracker reports 77 percent of consumers reporting online purchase scams lost money in 2020, totaling over 24,600 dollars. Online purchase scams comprised just 16 percent of frauds with a monetary loss in our local service area, a 23 percent increase from 2019. Since October 2020, BBB Scam Tracker has gathered 96 reports so far in our local service area, an 85% increase from 2019 (52) to year-to-date. The enticement of a great sales price was the top reason victims purchased a product and lost money.

Significant findings

Those ages 35 to 44 are most at risk of losing money to online purchase scams. The median dollar loss in our local area is $99, similar to national numbers.

The platforms most reported by consumers who saw products and lost money were: (1) Facebook, (2) Google, (3) direct merchant website, (4) Instagram, (5) pop up ad in social media when actively shopping.

According to survey respondents, out of the 57 percent who did not research the website or business via an independent source before making a purchase, 81 percent lost money.

“We have witnessed a major increase of online purchase scams here in our local area,” said Julie Wheeler, President, and CEO of BBB Serving Western Virginia. “Consumers should use extreme caution this holiday shopping season and not let scammers steal your holiday cheer.”

BBB recommends the following consumer tips for shopping online:

  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase, then lost money was the price. Don’t shop on price alone.
  • Professional photos do not mean it’s a real offer. Respondents reported that website photos motivated them to engage with scammers, especially for pets/pet supplies, clothing/accessories, and vehicles.
  • Research before you buy it. Out of the 57 percent who didn’t research the website or business via an independent source (*like BBB.org) before making a purchase, 81 percent lost money.
  • Beware of fake websites: Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, research the age of the domain, search for contact information, and read online reviews.
  • Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
  • Shipment tracking information can be faked. Look closely to make sure it’s a legitimate business. Don’t just click on the tracking link; go to the shipper’s website and type in the code to see if it’s real.
  • Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. According to BBB’s research, those who paid with a credit card or PayPal were less likely to lose money. Avoid paying by wire transfer, prepaid moneycard, gift card, or other non-traditional payment methods.
  • Don’t believe everything you see. Scammers are great at mimicking official seals, fonts, and other details. The website or email may look official, but it doesn’t mean it is. If a business displays a BBB Accreditation Seal, verify it by going to BBB.org
  • Make sure the website is secure. Look for the “https” in the URL (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only “http” – it is NOT secure.
  • Be careful purchasing sought-after products, especially during the holiday season. The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays because more people are making online purchases, and scammers offer the most popular products for the season at great prices.
  • Report suspicious activities to BBB Scam Tracker (BBB.org/ScamTracker) to help other consumers avoid being scammed.

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