BBB research shows spike in online purchase scams since COVID started
Milwaukee, Wis. – 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.
“This was something we had to examine more closely,” said Melissa Lanning Trumpower, executive director of BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, which produced the report. “People will continue to actively shop online in order to reduce their exposure and keep their families safe. As this virus continues and circumstances change, scammers will try to take advantage.”
The 2020 Online Purchase Scams Report examines findings from an August 2020 survey of 1,549 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 when they were 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, more than four out of five lost money.
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.
Survey results reinforced that consumer education in relation to online shopping is a critical component of fighting back against these scammers. Those who were aware of online purchase scams prior to being targeted were less likely to lose money (77 percent) than those who were not aware (82 percent).
For tips on how to avoid online shopping scams, visit BBB.org/OnlinePurchaseScams.
For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
About the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust: The BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust (BBB Institute) is the educational foundation of the Better Business Bureau. Our mission is to educate and protect consumers, promote best practices for businesses, and solve complex marketplace problems. Our consumer educational programs, which include a wide array of resources on fraud prevention and education, are delivered digitally and in-person by BBBs serving communities across North America. You can find more information about BBB Institute and its programs at BBBMarketplaceTrust.org.
ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2019, people turned to BBB more than 183 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.8 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Wisconsin which was founded in 1939 and serves the state of Wisconsin.