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The Season

The most common scams in the U.S. involve online purchases

Sabri Ben-Achour Oct 28, 2019
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Online scams are on the rise.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Consumers spent $517 billion last year buying things online, up around 15% from the year before.

And where there’s money, there are scams.

Online scams buried in social media platforms and websites that you may trust are on the rise. These are scams where you see an ad, try to buy something and then it never shows up — or if it does, it’s a cheap knockoff.

The Better Business Bureau received 10,450 reports of online purchase scams in 2018 (it’s certain that many more went unreported.) That was an increase of 124% over the year before. Online purchase scams are both the most common scam and the most likely to get people — 47% of those exposed to them ended up losing money, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Clothing and jewelry are common items found on scam websites, but just as common: pets — puppies, kittens and birds. The Better Business Bureau reports that 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.

Most common products involved in online purchase scams. (Courtesy of 2018 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report)

Some tips:

In many cases, people trust the platform that a fake advertiser has used. Just because you see an ad on Instagram or your favorite gaming app doesn’t mean it’s legit!

Take your time! Scammers rely on rash decisions. If you spend a little more time looking into a “too good to be true” advertisement, you might find clues that it’s a scam. Is there a customer service 800 number or a contact email? No? Red flag! Is that email suspicious? Another red flag!

Google the company offering the goods. If you find no trace of it, red flag! Is there a street address? No? Red flag! Even if there is a street address, search for it on Google Maps and use street view to see if it’s actually a business.

Read the website, looking at the language and grammar that’s being used — make sure it looks professional and sounds professional. Don’t get taken in by the picture of the product.

Check when the domain was registered, if it’s a brand-new domain name or if the owner’s name has been masked (try searching on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers website). Those are also red flags for scams.

Google the goods. You might just find them from a more reputable source or on a platform such as Amazon that may offer a refund guarantee in the event of fraud.

Report it. If you’re on a platform that lets you report an ad or fraudulent seller, report away! Leave a comment that will tip off other potential victims. You can report a scam with the Better Business Bureau, and Reddit has a page where you can list scams as well, so they can be found when other consumers google a suspicious incident. 

You can find more tips from the Better Business Bureau here.

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