WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), online shopping scam reports to the BBB Scam Tracker remain just under all-time highs reached in 2021 when BBB issued an in-depth study, “Theft on a Massive Scale: Online Shopping Fraud and the Role of Social Media” in Dec. 2021.

According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, administered by the Federal Trade Commission, reported losses in 2022 are expected to exceed $380 million in online shopping frauds.

The BBB Scam Tracker compiled 50,813 reports in North America between 2019 and 2022 for a total of $22.6 million in losses.

“So it’s extremely important, especially as the holidays are coming up, a lot of us do more online ordering during this time of the year, that you know what the scam is, the red flags and how to protect yourself,” said Vice President for the Kansas Region Better Business Bureau Denise Groene.

Common reasons the BBB says consumers ignore scam warning signs are because they include hard-to-find items, low prices with easy delivery and emotional purchases.

The BBB says the highest at-risk online shoppers are those aged 18 to 24.

“This didn’t come completely as a surprise to us simply because this demographic has grown up with technology. They do a lot more online shopping. They are more comfortable with shopping online,” Groene said.

The average loss is $100, according to the BBB.

According to the BBB, scammers target three key moments:

  1. Pre-shopping
    • Advertisements for scams on social media
  2. While shopping
    • Artificially low or fake websites
  3. Post-shopping
    • Fake tracking information and request more money for safe delivery

Groene says a few things can happen once you order from a fake website.

“Number one, your order could appear to go through, you get a tracking number emailed over to you, but you never receive the item, or you receive an item, but it’s not what you ordered,” said Groene. “The other thing that we’ve heard of is when a consumer goes to make that order, they are told that their credit card processor is down, and they ask that consumer to use a peer-to-peer type payment method or a gift card. So when we say peer-to-peer, we’re talking about Venmo, Zelle, those digital currency applications, or a gift card. Both of these are like cash, so once you send the information to what you think is going to a legitimate company, you will never hear from them again, and there’s no recourse in getting a refund or your money back.”

The BBB says scams work when:

  • You:
    • Spot an attractive item at a good price found through a product search or social media/email ads
    • Visit the professional-looking website
    • Check the reviews and business location
    • Make the purchase
  • Scammers:
    • Lure you in with bogus ads, stolen or fake websites, reviews and business locations
    • Keep your credit card info
    • Try to get you to pay with a difficult-to-trace payment method
    • Send you a wrong or defective item, or nothing at all
    • Keep your hard-earned money

The BBB’s online shopping fraud red flags include the following:

  • Unfamiliar websites or social media pages without any reviews.
  • Reviews with repetitive or excessively glowing content.
  • Recently created websites without contact information.
  • Website URLs with misspellings or other errors.
  • Unclear refund or warranty information.
  • Too good to be true prices.
  • Payment is required by gift cards, debit cards, wire transfers or payment apps like Zelle and Venmo, which offer little protection against scams. Use a credit card when possible.

Groene says one way to protect yourself against online fraud is to know the retailer that you are purchasing from.

“If it is a business that you haven’t had any experience with, take some time to do some extra research,” said Groene. “When you’re on their website, look at the content section, see if there is a problem with your order, or say you do need a refund, or you need to get a hold of them after an order’s been placed, what sort of information are they giving you about them?”

Groene says you can also protect yourself by doing a quick search for their location.

“A lot of these fake websites will have an address listed, but it’s completely made up, or when you Google it, it will take you to maybe a UPS store or another location that is clearly not associated with the business,” Groene said.

Groene also advises using a safe payment method.

“So the best payment method to use when you’re ordering online is a credit card,” said Groene. “It has more consumer protection, and you are never at fault for fraud as long as you report it to your card provider in a timely manner.”

To research online sellers and find a trusted BBB Accredited Business, go to bbb.org.

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to a scam, report it on the BBB Scam Tracker.