Online Shopping Scams: What Should Americans Be Careful Of

All of us engage in some sort of shopping during the holiday season. It’s hard not to get swept up in the joy of Christmas and the new year. But shoppers in America, in particular, should consider taking a bit more caution this year.

Why? According to experts of public data, the sheer number of shoppers in the US that have reported some sort of online shopping scam has almost tripled in the last three years. And this is especially prevalent with online shopping close to Christmas. So, for those doing just that, you may be a prime target.

Online Shopping Scams Targeting Customers

The Better Business Bureau (or BBB) has been the place where consumers have reported many of their scams or poor business encounters. This is since way back in 2015. The BBB recognizes over twenty different types of online scams (scary stuff!). When analyzing the data, it seems that even more scams are coming into fruition.

There’s no doubt, however, that the most common type of scam to occur is online shopping scams. This is with over 15% of reported scams occurring because of this. Foreign exchange/inheritance scams take the largest total dollar amount as victims fork out thousands at a time. However, when it comes to the number of individuals scammed, online shopping is at the forefront.

Why is This Season the Most Dangerous?

Online shopping is all about convenience. There’s something extremely satisfying about clicking a few buttons on your laptop or phone, and getting something delivered to your door. And with payment options like PayPal or Amazon Now, this has only been made easier.

But the added convenience for consumers, unfortunately, means convenience for scammers too. According to research, the average American will spend between $400 and $500 per week on ‘impulse’ buys. And over half of those impulse buys are the result of advertising deals.

It goes without saying that the holiday season is the optimum time for both retailers and consumers in this regard. Consumers panic to get all their family and friends presents, whilst retailers aim to shift as much stock as they can before the quiet of the new year sets in.

But with consumers being so keen at this time, they often disregard their own online safety when making purchases. If budding scammers have set up fake, mock or unofficial websites, consumers often fall in their trap. But the sheer number of these scams is far more than many people could imagine. On December 20th, 2018 alone, victims reported over 100 million online scams to the BBB, with over $60,000 lost by consumers.

A small price to pay for the average consumer, but overall, a lot of money goes to scams. Make no mistake, even with online security, through browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox, being tighter than ever, these scams will occur again this year.

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What’s the Role of Facebook in Online Shopping Scams?

But to the surprise (and relief) of many, the BBB has actually had less scams reported this year – in 2019 – that they had last year. Many claim that this is the result of Facebook’s intervention, removing many of the online scams that plagued the social media giant.

This intervention wasn’t through goodwill, however, as Facebook was issued a $4 million fine following a court case. The company was accused of ignoring these fake scams for too long. In fact, social media in general has a much bigger effect on our shopping than we like to think.

Facebook has over 1.5 billion users worldwide (more than the entire population of Europe and the US combined), with most people in the US having a personal Facebook account. With the sheer amount of users it has, Facebook can afford to offer adverts at a much more appealing rate. This means they can often attract adverts from illegitimate sources.

Despite hundreds of millions of users also having an Instagram and YouTube account, it’s Facebook’s newsfeed, layout and requirements, that make running ‘dodgy’ adverts a lot easier. Facebook’s own ‘ad approval’ process isn’t as tight and strict as that from other social media sites too. And even dishonest and misleading political campaigns have been plastered on the site for years, with little intervention from the company themselves.

It’s clear then, for some reason or another, Facebook has taken a lazy approach. This is when enforcing restrictions related to advertising. This has allowed the same illegitimate ads and campaigns to run again and again, with little or no repercussion. Until this has a complete overhaul, it seems that the problem won’t disappear any time soon.

A Major American Problem

Looking at all of the data available, it seems that – although they’re certainly not disappearing any time soon – online shopping scams are shifting. What used to be the search for big payouts of money (usually in the thousands), has now formed into scammers looking for smaller amounts of money. That’s because it’s easier to get more individual users ‘through the door’ this way. What’s even more interesting is that – looking at the data from the BBB – despite these scams occurring online, there are particular geographical areas that are much more likely to encounter scams than others.

For example, online shoppers located in Colorado reported the highest total of money lost through online scams. It was over $1.5 million over the past 4 years. There’s also some differentiation between states, with California reporting almost 2,500 scams but Michigan reporting just over 1,000. The reason behind this isn’t clear just yet.

But with two-thirds of US citizens claiming to shop online, this means 1 in every 25,000 of them has reported being scammed. Whether there are more that go unreported, there’s no way yet of knowing. So, when shopping this holiday season, be extremely cautious. If there’s anything you can buy in store instead, do that. It’s a much safer option.

Have you been the victim of an online shopping scam? Drop a comment below to let us know!


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