The share of shopping that consumers do online has been growing for years. E-commerce sales topped $1.03 trillion in 2022, an increase of 7 percent over the year before and the first time the number has surpassed $1 trillion, according to The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce.
Cybercriminals are keeping pace. An AARP survey of 2,012 U.S. consumers 18 and older, found that more than a third of respondents have experienced fraud when trying to buy a product through an online ad.
Online purchasing is the most common scam type reported to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), accounting for 32 percent of complaints to the BBB Scam Tracker in 2022, and the riskiest, with 3 in 4 victims reporting a monetary loss.
The typical shopping scam starts with a bogus website, mobile app or, increasingly, a social media ad; online shopping scams are the most commonly reported scam originating on social media, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Some faux e-stores are invented from whole cloth, but many mimic trusted retailers, with familiar logos and slogans and a URL that’s easily mistaken for the real thing. They offer popular items at a fraction of the usual cost and promise perks such as free shipping and overnight delivery, exploiting the premium online shoppers put on price and speed.
Some copycats do deliver merchandise — shoddy knockoffs worth less than even the “discount” price advertised as a once-in-a-lifetime deal on, say, Tiffany watches or Timberland boots. More often, you’ll wait in vain for your purchase to arrive.
Your losses might not stop there: Scammers may seed phony sites, apps or links in pop-up ads and email coupons with malware that infects your device and harvests personal information for use in identity theft.
Not surprisingly, these frauds flourish during the holiday season and major shopping events such as Amazon's Prime Day. Seasonal super sales bring a plethora of deceptive ads, phishing messages and look alike shopping sites, the BBB warns.