BBB Research Shows Spike in Online Purchase Scams Since COVID Started

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Scams related to online purchases, already on the rise in 2019, spiked further following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). A staggering 80.5 percent of consumers reporting online purchase scams in 2020 lost money. That figure has been creeping up from 71.2 percent in 2015, when BBB began collecting data.

Online purchase scams ranked among the top three riskiest scams for the last three years, according to the 2019 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report that was published in March 2020. Shortly after the report was released, COVID-19 shut down businesses, forcing people to socially distance and increase their online presence. With the coronavirus pandemic expected to continue for the foreseeable future and more people potentially being targeted by online scams, BBB launched a new study to better understand how online purchase scams happen, who is targeted, the overall impact of them and how BBB can help people avoid losing money while shopping online.

The 2020 Online Purchase Scams Report examines findings from U.S. and Canadian consumers reporting online purchase scams to BBB Scam Tracker. The top reason people lost money to this type of scam was the enticement of a sales price. Scammers offered high demand products at a significantly reduced dollar amount, which then increased the desire to purchase the item.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, the second biggest motivating factor to search and purchase items online was availability. Early in the pandemic, supplies such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, cleaning products, and masks were in short supply. According to the survey, more than half (53 percent) of the respondents said they weren’t aware they were a target of a scam until they didn’t receive the product they ordered.

Consumers who lost money to online purchase scams reported the following platforms as the place where they saw the product: Facebook, Google, a direct merchant website, Instagram, or pop up ads on social media. According to survey respondents, four out of five lost money if they did not research the website or business via an independent source before making a purchase.

The report highlights those who are most at risk for online purchase scams. Individuals ages 35-44 were more susceptible and likely to be victimized, while younger consumers are more susceptible than older adults. However, older adults tend to lose more money than younger adults for online purchase scams. This falls in line with findings across all scam types. In addition, service members, military spouses, and veterans were more likely to fall victim than non-military consumers and reported losing significantly more money to online purchase scams.  

BBB Serving North Alabama offers these tips to consumers who are already starting their holiday 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.

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 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.

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. Professional photos do not mean it’s a real offer.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

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


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