Online shopping scams flourish on social media during pandemic, according to BBB study

December 2, 2021 1:10 PM EST

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ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- A shift toward online shopping during COVID-19, a global supply chain crisis, and a resurging economy have all created a recipe for a breakneck holiday shopping season – one where online shopping fraud poses a tremendous risk to consumers. Online purchase scams have skyrocketed during the pandemic, and social media ads play a key role in the mushrooming problem, a new Better Business Bureau® (BBB®) study finds.

A BBB study shows online shopping scams are the riskiest and could hamper the holiday shopping season.

The in-depth investigative study – Theft on a massive scale: Online shopping fraud and the role of social media – finds the pandemic, along with lax social commerce shopping platforms, has opened the door for scammers to steal from desperate online shoppers. Read the full study

Online shopping fraud has been growing for several years, but according to BBB research, it dramatically increased during the pandemic as more people shopped online. A BBB survey found 29% of people shopped online before COVID-19, and this increased to 37% by the end of 2020. In turn, BBB Scam Tracker reports about online shopping scams nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020, and the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust named online shopping scams as the riskiest scam of 2020, publishing special reports on this growing fraud in 2020 and 2021. Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about online purchases more than doubled in 2020 and continue to increase throughout 2021. Also, online shopping has more BBB "F"-rated companies than any other type of business. 

Most online fraud reports examined involve a response to online ads. After placing an order, victims report receiving nothing or receiving items that were counterfeit or inferior from what the ads promised. Scammers often take product photos or a landing page from legitimate businesses, post them on popular social media platforms and take online orders at websites they create. This leads to complaints against legitimate businesses, as victims often do not realize they have lost their money to a scammer rather than the business the scammer was portraying. 

Counterfeit and pirated goods, the subject of a 2019 BBB investigative study, are rampant in online shopping scams. Other online fraud reports involve sites selling non-existing petsvehicle shipping schemes and deceptive free trial offers

Tips for avoiding online purchase scams: 

  • Check out the website before making a purchase: 
    • Check to check a business's rating and BBB accreditation status. Some crooks may copy the BBB seal. If it is real, clicking on the seal will lead to the company's BBB profile. 
    • Search the internet with the company name and the word "scam." This may locate other complaints about the site. 
  • Scrutinize reviews: Scammers frequently post positive reviews on the website, either copied from honest sites or created by scammers. Be aware, some review websites claim to be independent but are funded by scammers. Look at the bad reviews first. These are more likely to be real and can help identify scams. One trusted resource to check reviews is
  • Search for contact information: Use caution if the site does not have a US or Canadian phone number or uses a Gmail or Yahoo business email address. 
  • Keep records: Make a note of the website of what was ordered. Take a screenshot of the item ordered, in case the website disappears, or an item arrives that differs from what was advertised. 
  • Pay by credit card: Credit cards often provide more protection against fraud than other payment methods. 

Report online shopping fraud to: 

  • Better Business Bureau - file a complaint at or report it to
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) - file a complaint at or call 877-FTC-Help. 
  • National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center - report intellectual property and counterfeiting violations to
  • Internet Crime Complaint enter (IC3) - file a complaint at
  • Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre - file a report at or call 1-888-495-8501. 
  • Facebook – report ads that violate Facebooks policies by clicking the *** next to an ad to go to 
  • Instagram - report copyright infringement or other policy violations at 
  • Amazon – report suspicious activities and webpages at 
  • Google – report scams at 
  • PayPal - call (888) 221-1161 to speak with a live person instead of using the automated system. 
  • Your credit card company - Call the phone number on the back of the credit card to report the fraud and request your money back. 

About BBBFor more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands, and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at The International Association of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for the local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

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