Elderly Scam / Fraud Alert
It takes time and effort to find the right product or service when shopping online. But, while doing an online search, shoppers may not be aware that scammers are following them around.
Fraudsters troll online shoppers to find out what they are searching for or the links they are clicking on, said Melissa Lanning Trumpower, the executive director of the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Institute for Marketplace Trust. Scammers find popular products to offer online shoppers at the best prices. According to Trumpower, “price is the key factor to falling prey to a scam.”
Online shopping scams typically involve fraudsters advertising some type of attractive deal or putting up a website to advertise fake products. The buyer makes a purchase and may even receive a shipment tracking information. The fraudster takes the payment but does not send the advertised product or service or send something else that was not advertised on the site.
Besides shoppers, legitimate online sellers fall prey to scammers through “overpayments.” The fraudsters will buy something from an online seller and “accidentally” send an overpayment, which is usually a fake check written for more than the amount of the advertised price. The scammer will then ask the seller to refund the balance. The seller will send the refund before realizing that the fraudster’s check was fake.
Cybersecurity experts are warning consumers to remain vigilant when doing online shopping since fraud complaints are on the rise. Federal regulators saw an increase in the number of online fraud complaints in 2020, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic which forced more people to work and shop online. And, fraudsters took advantage of the situation.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 791,790 complaints of suspected online crime, an increase of over 300,000 complaints from 2019, according to the agency’s 2020 Internet Crime Report. The reported losses exceeded $4.2 billion.
The top three crimes reported by victims in 2020 were phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion, according to the FBI’s report.
Of the total number of complaints, 28,500 were related to COVID-19, with scammers offering hard-to-find items, such as face masks, disinfectant wipes, and toilet paper, at reduced prices.
BBB Report: Online Purchases Among Top Scams
Online purchase scams were among the top three riskiest scams for the third year in a row, according to the BBB Institute’s 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report.
The institute put together its annual report by analyzing about 41,000 online purchase scam reports submitted to the BBB’s Scam Tracker between 2015 and September 2020. The report also included research from a survey conducted in 2020 of people who reported online purchase scams.
According to the survey, only two percent of people surveyed said they immediately knew that they had been scammed while 53 percent did not know that they had been scammed until they failed to receive the product that they ordered.
The BBB’s Scam Tracker found that 73 percent of people did not receive the product or service that they paid for while 15 percent received something different from what was described and they could not get a refund.
Similar to the FBI’s report was the BBB’s survey results associated with COVID-19. The number of people shopping online each week rose from 29 percent before the pandemic began to 37 percent since COVID-19. What’s more, 83 percent of those shopping online due to COVID were more likely to lose money compared to 77 percent of those who did not shop online.
Shoppers lost money online by purchasing products that scammers offered at significantly reduced prices, the Scam Tracker report said. Photos on the fraudster’s website were the number one motivator for purchasing pets or clothing or accessories, according to the report.
How to Avoid Being Scammed While Shopping Online
One way shoppers can stay safe is to use different passwords for every online account, said Dr. Lorrie Cranor, director of the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. In this way, if one account gets hacked, the attacker cannot break into other accounts, she said.
Cranor recommends shoppers use a password manager to create random passwords or create their own random passwords and write them down because they are hard to remember.
Other ways to stay safe while shopping online include:
Using websites and vendors that are familiar to shoppers. For websites that shoppers never heard of before, Cranor suggests shoppers research those sites before making a purchase.
Clean your computer. Cybersecurity experts recommend installing security software that can scan your computer for viruses, remove deleted data, find and delete junk files, and perform other functions. Some computers have built-in security and for those who do not, shoppers can do research before purchasing security software or downloading free software from the Internet.
Use credit cards or Paypal for online purchases. According to the BBB’s Scam Tracker report, online shoppers were less likely to lose money when they paid with a credit card or Paypal. Those who were more likely to lose money paid by a bank account debit card, a prepaid card, or Zelle, a banking app.
Online consumers should also do comparison shopping when they find a bargain offered by an unfamiliar company or individual. The BBB’s Trumpower recommends checking to see if anyone else is offering the same product at the same price. “If it’s too good to be true,” she said, “it probably is.” What’s more, if no one else has that product, and it’s at a great price, Trumpower advises to “be very careful and proceed with caution.”