Online purchase scams continue to be one of the riskiest scams facing consumers, according to the 2021 Online Purchase Scams Report. BBB’s annual report aims to provide new information about how consumers can find trusted sources that will help them make safe buying decisions. These findings provide key insights for consumers and businesses on how to safely navigate an increasingly online environment.
Insights contained in the 2021 Online Purchase Scams Report are based on two sets of data:
• An analysis of more than 55,000 online purchase scam reports submitted to BBB Scam Tracker between 2015 and 2021. • New survey research (2,435 respondents) conducted by the Institute for Marketplace Trust to glean additional insights from those who reported online purchase scams in 2020 and 2021.
Online purchase scams typically involve the purchase of products or services where the transaction occurs via a website or other online means. Scammers use technology to offer attractive deals but, once the payment is made, no product or service is delivered or in some cases, fraudsters send low-quality or counterfeit products.
• So far in 2021, 35.3% of all reports submitted to BBB Scam Tracker are online purchase scams, the most reported scam type. A significant number of consumers continued to lose money when targeted by online purchase scams (74.8%) in 2021. The median dollar loss for this scam type has risen in recent years, up from $76 in 2019 and $96 in 2020 to $102 in 2021.
• Pet-related scams are the riskiest, encompassing 35% of all online purchase scams in 2020, with 70% of people losing money. The French bulldog is the top dog breed used to perpetrate online purchase scams.
• Ages 18-24 lost money more often (81.3%) than all other age groups. This age group also lost more money than other age groups with a median dollar loss of $125. The enticement of a great sales price was the top reason victims purchased a product and lost money.
• A little over 1-in-10 survey respondents (13%) reported to BBB they received counterfeit products such as digital devices, luggage or handbags, and jewelry. Footwear and apparel are the most common counterfeit product types.
• Almost half of survey respondents (47%) actively searching for a product or business via a Google search lost money. • A majority of survey respondents (56%) passively browsing or not looking on Facebook lost money.
• When asked to choose between fake and real customer reviews, survey respondents were unable to tell the difference.
Based on the findings in the 2021 Online Purchasing Scams Report, online scams are likely to continue or even grow. 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 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. People who do not research the website or business via an independent source before making a purchase are more likely to lose 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 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 more likely to get their money back through the company that processed their payment. 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 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 are offering the most popular products for the season at great prices.
For more information, to test your ability to tell the difference between fake and real customer reviews, and to access the full report, visit BBB.org/OnlinePurchaseScams2021. Media Resources: Download the full 2021 BBB Online Purchase Scams Report (BBB.org).
Download 2021 BBB Online Purchase Scams Report infographic (BBB.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 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.2 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.