Holiday online shoppers are at greater risk, warns the Better Business Bureau.

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Online purchases make up more than a third of all scams reported to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), making online shopping and other purchases the riskiest scam type, according to the BBB. And there’s more bad news: You’re even at risk when just browsing and not actively making purchases.

Now the BBB is warning consumers that online purchase scams are spiking, casting a deceptive shadow on holiday shopping. Meanwhile, experts predict an earlier start to holiday shopping in 2021 due to supply chain concerns, microchip shortages and holiday hiring, according to the BBB.

“Scammers will find ways to take advantage of the situation by varying the product categories, capitalizing on what people are looking for online and focusing on the most sought-after gifts such as electronics, toys, and other trendy gift items,” says the BBB.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, online purchase scam reports have increased due to a significant rise in online shopping. So, the BBB surveyed consumers who reported shopping scams to find out more about how scammers swindle people shopping online.

Here’s what the BBB found out:

  • 64 percent of those surveyed were searching for a product when they lost money to an online shopping scam.
  • 36 percent of people who lost money to an online purchase scam were only passively looking — or not searching for potential purchases at all.
  • 32 percent of shoppers who placed an order said they received shipping tracking information that “seemed authentic.”
  • 36 percent received no shipping information at all from the online purchase scammer.
  • Some respondents didn’t worry at first because they assumed that shipping for products they purchased was delayed due to the pandemic.
  • Pets and pet supplies were the riskiest categories, and nearly 35 percent of all online purchase scams were pet related. Breed used for the most popular online pet purchase scam: The French Bulldog.

1. Take these steps to avoid online shopping scams

For the last three years, online purchase scams have been one of the top three riskiest consumer scams, according to the BBB. But you don’t have to become an online purchase scammer’s next victim. Here are the BBB’s tips to prevent shopping scammers from pocketing your hard-earned money.

Find out: 6 Red Flags of Going-Out-of-Business” Online Scammers

2. Don’t jump at “too good to be true” deals

If that designer dress selling for $30 looks like a deal that’s too good to be true, that’s because it’s probably a scam. “The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase and then lost money was price,” says the BBB. “Don’t shop on price alone.”

Find out: Don’t Be Sideswiped by These Online Car Buying Scams

3. Research the site before you buy

Around 57 percent of consumers who reported being victims of online shopping scams to the BBB said they didn’t research the website of business independently before making the purchase. Roughly 81 percent of those consumers reported losing money.

Find out: 6 Signs of a Fake Dating Website

4. Watch out for website imposters

Watch for errors, inconsistencies, bad grammar and spelling errors on the website. Those traits are a clue that you could be shopping on a fake website. Search online for reviews about the company and website, and never buy anything from a site that doesn’t display accessible contact information such as a phone number for customer service.

Find out: Don’t Get Caught Up in These Fake Government Grant Scams

5. Don’t make impulse purchases on social media

“Like marketers for real companies, scammers have access to the tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering up exactly what you want at enticing prices,” says the BBB.

Find out: Watch Out for These Pandemic Text Scams 

6. Make sure the website is secure

A website that’s secure will have “https” in the URL, with the extra “s” and a small lock icon showing you the site is secure. Never enter your credit card information if the URL doesn’t include those items.

For more tips on staying safe from online purchase scammers, visit the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust.

Find out: Slam the Brakes on These 4 Car Rental Scams

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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