BBB research shows spike in online purchase scams since COVID started

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCT) – “Unfortunately, where the people go the scammers go so that’s when online scams really started skyrocketing,” said Alyssa Parker, director of communications for Better Business Bureau Eastern North Carolina.

Scammers are doing more online during the pandemic because people staying home are shopping there. The Better Business Bureau expects more cons for the holidays. The biggest red flag is often the price tag.

“If you see something and even though it is a great price but you know it’s below what it should cost that’s a huge red flag you should be aware of. Make sure you are on a legitimate site,” Parker said.

The advice? Make your purchases with a credit card because card companies usually offer fraud protection on purchases.

“These online scams are not going away so it’s just important to be aware they are out there and make sure you’re doing your research,” said Parker.

The bureau’s other warning is about texts promising a $1,200 stimulus check. You’re prompted to click a link to get the money. Don’t buy it.

“It’s important to know that the IRS or really any government agency for that matter is not going to text you and they’re not going to ask for personal banking information through a texting platform,” Parker explains.

The Better Business Bureau says you should be wary of something too good to be true especially big discounts or giveaways. You can report a scam to the bureau or the IRS.

Previous Report:

Ranked among the top three riskiest scams for the last three years, online purchase scams have spiked since the start of COVID-19, according to recent Better Business Bureau research.

As the holiday shopping season approaches, Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina (BBB) reminds consumers to remain vigilant against these scams. 

“Health experts have expressed they anticipate the pandemic to continue for the foreseeable future, which leaves a lot of uncertainty as we approach the holiday shopping season,” said Mallory Wojciechowski, president, and CEO of BBB serving Eastern NC. “Online scams are likely to continue or even increase over the next few months, so consumers should use extra caution this holiday season to protect their personal information and money.”

How online purchase scams work:

Online purchase scams typically involve the purchase of products and/or services where the transaction occurs via a website or other online means. Scammers utilize online technology to offer attractive deals, but once the payment is made no product or service is delivered. 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 funds from their account.

Additional findings from BBB’s online purchase scams report include:

  • In 2015, online purchasing scams comprised just 13 percent of all scams reported with a monetary loss; in 2020, they comprise a whopping 64 percent.
  • Whether or not a consumer was actively shopping for a product versus passively browsing appears to have an impact on victimization. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents were actively searching for a product when they lost money to an online purchase scam. Twenty-two percent of those who lost money were passively searching while 15 percent were not looking at all.
  • Top platforms where consumers who lost money to an online purchase scam first learned about the product include Facebook (30 percent), Google (28 percent), a specific website (17 percent), and Instagram (9 percent).
  • Those who paid with a credit card or PayPal were less likely to lose money.

BBB offers the following tips to shop smart online:

Research businesses. Review their business profile at and look for their customer reviews before purchasing.

Shop with a credit card. In case of a fraudulent transaction, a credit card provides additional protections; it’s easier to dispute charges that you didn’t approve or to get your money back if there is a problem. Debit cards, prepaid cards or gift cards don’t have the same protections as a credit card.

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. 

Protect personal information. Read a site’s privacy policy and understand what personal information is being requested and how it will be used. If a site doesn’t have a privacy policy, that’s a big red flag that it may be a scam.

Think before you click. Shipment tracking information can be faked, so 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. Be especially cautious about random email solicitations, online ads on social media sites, or random text messages.

To learn more about the 2020 Online Purchase Scams Report and other BBB studies, visit To research scams targeting consumers in your area or to report a scam, visit

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