Surge in online purchase scams during pandemic

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) – With less than 60 shopping days left for the upcoming holiday season, a new research report from the Better Business Bureau urges caution for anyone shopping online.

The new report reveals in 2020, 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. Equally eye-opening are the stats that show in 2015, online purchase scams comprised just 13 percent of scams with a monetary loss; so far in 2020, they comprise a whopping 64 percent.

For three years in a row, online purchase scams have ranked in the top three riskiest scams targeting consumers, according to the 2019 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report.

Scammers use online technology to offer attractive deals, but once the payment is made the product or service is not delivered. 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.

“This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to social distance and increase their online presence, putting them at further risk of being targeted by these types of scams. We urge consumers to always check out businesses with or other independent sources before you send money. Many of these scammers can set up and steal images to make a great looking fake website complete with testimonials in very little time,” Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau said.

Some of the key findings show the enticement of a great sales price was the top reason victims purchased a product and lost money. Those in the 35 to 44 age group are most at risk of losing money to online purchase scams

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.

“Health officials tell us the pandemic is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, and the 2020 holiday shopping season is full of uncertainty,” according to the BBB.

Online scams are likely to continue or even grow, so BBB recommends the following 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 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. Out of the 57 percent who didn’t research the website or business via an independent source (*like 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 up exactly what you want at enticing 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 money card, 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.

– 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.

– 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 are offering the most popular products for the season at great prices.

Report suspicious activities to the BBB Scam Tracker to help other consumers avoid being scammed.

Copyright 2020 WIFR. All rights reserved.

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