BBB warns of online purchase scams

What is an online purchase scam? Online purchase scams involve the purchase of products and/or services from a website or other online means (pop-up ads, social media posts, etc.). Scammers use the Internet to offer attractive deals, but once the payment is made the buyer gets nothing! 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 refund from their own personal account.

BBB is today releasing a major report on Online Purchase Scams. You can obtain the full report and a two-page summary at

Key Message Points

  • Online purchase scams were among the top three riskiest scams for the last three years.
  • 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.
  • In 2020, 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 enticement of a great sales price was the top reason victims purchased a product and lost money.
  • Those ages 35 to 44 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.
  • Researching a website is critical! Out of the 57 percent who did not research the website or business via an independent source before making a purchase, 81 percent of them lost money!

Consumer Tips:

Health officials tell us the pandemic is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, and the 2020 holiday shopping season is full of uncertainty. 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. Purchasing puppies from web sites is especially fraught with risk!
  • Research before you buy. As stated above, 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. If a business displays a BBB Accreditation Seal, verify it first by going to Scammers often “steal” our logo to gain credibility.
  • 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 are offering the most popular products for the season at great prices.
  • Report suspicious activities to BBB Scam Tracker ( to help other consumers avoid being scammed.