Another summer season is winding down to a close as children and parents across the nation prepare themselves for another school year following the summer break. Spending on back-to-school supplies this year is expected to break records, with $41.5 billion ($4.6 billion more than in 2022) going toward clothing, shoes, electronics and other school supplies. More than half (55%) of consumers are expected to do most of their shopping online, providing the perfect opportunity for scammers and fraudulent businesses to steal from the public. As the beginning of the school year approaches, Better Business Bureau (BBB) reminds consumers to be wary of online scams while crossing off items on their back-to-school shopping list.
“Online purchase scams continue to be the most common type of scam consumers encounter and lose money to across the nation,” said Heather Massey, vice president of communications for BBB serving the Heart of Texas. “Scammers know the shopping habits and trends of consumers, as well as their desire to find the best deal by comparatively shopping online. As the back-to-school shopping season picks up, we encourage online shoppers to take their time and verify deals or promotions to help avoid losing money or putting their banking information at risk.”
Of the over $500,000 Texas consumers reported losing to online purchase scams to BBB Scam Tracker in 2022, 40% of losses came from interacting with an online seller through social media channels and 23% from websites. This trend continues to be prevalent in 2023, with 36% of total losses to online purchase scams originating from social media and 21% from websites. Additionally, losses to online purchase scams from January – July 2023 have almost doubled total losses in 2022 at nearly $980,000.
Every month, BBB typically receives over a thousand reports of online purchase scams from consumers across the United States which has contributed to this scam being identified as the No. 1 riskiest in BBB’s annual Scam Tracker Risk Report for the past three years. “Awareness and knowledge of scam tactics are the greatest defenses consumers can utilize against bad actors in the marketplace,” said Massey. “Trust your gut, and if something doesn’t feel right, the best option is to walk away from the interaction even if that means losing out on a great deal.”
To assist back-to-school shoppers this season, Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to save money and avoid scams:
Check around your home. Start back-to-school shopping right at home by making a list of everything you need and then taking stock of everything you may have stored in desks, drawers, closets or storage areas. Some supplies may still be left over from last year, saving you from purchasing the same item twice.
Research expensive purchases. Before purchasing expensive items such as computers, laptops, or a refrigerator for a dorm, be sure to spend some time researching the brand, reviews of the product, warranty and prices at multiple locations. Universities often have rules regarding the size and placement of refrigerators in dorms. Check with the college or university housing office on whether an energy-efficient refrigerator is required.
Ask for student discounts. Stores and software companies often offer discounts to students with either a student ID or a valid ‘.edu’ email address. Even if a discount is not advertised, it never hurts to ask.
Shop in bulk. If purchasing standard items that are needed at the beginning of each school year, such as binders, notebooks or writing utensils, buying in bulk is a great way to save money.
Shop safely online
• When purchasing school supplies online, verify that the URL starts with “https” and includes a lock symbol. The “s” in “https” stands for secure and includes additional encryption and security measures than an “http” website. BBB strongly recommends against inputting bank account information into any website that is not secured.
• If purchasing from a digital marketplace, take the time to read reviews and feedback from previous customers. The lowest price may not always be the best route. If the company’s contact information is not clearly listed, or they only have an email as the point of contact, that is a red flag. You may want to shop elsewhere.
• BBB strongly recommends against using unprotected payment options when interacting with online marketplaces. If the seller insists on payment via wire transfer or a gift card, that is a sign it may not be a legitimate business. Using a credit card is almost always the best option when purchasing online due to the additional protections they have to dispute and resolve charges when purchased products are not received.
For more tips for back-to-school shopping, visit BBB.org/School.
If you or someone you know has encountered a scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Information provided may prevent another person from falling victim.
ABOUT BBB: The Better Business Bureau has empowered people to find businesses, brands and charities they can trust for over 110 years. In 2022, people turned to BBB more than 250 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on about 12,000 charities, all available for free at BBB.org. Local, independent BBBs can be found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB serving the Heart of Texas which was founded in 1950 and serves 105 counties across Texas.