NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — Every year there are reminders about not falling for scams around the holidays, but this year the warning is even louder.
The pandemic has sparked shortages of toys, cars and just about anything that can make a nice gift and a nice scam.
"I think we really need to consider the fact that we've been living in very un-normal time sort of past two years," said Caleb Nix with the Better Business Bureau.
According to Nix, the pandemic is just one reason why we need to be on high alert when it comes to scams more than ever this year.
"With that comes a lot of stress and anxiety and one of the things that we know about scams and scammers is when you see something that looks fake, it can sometimes when you're under stress bypass your prefrontal cortex. So, you're not necessarily making decisions that you would normally make in those situations, so it's important to take them into consideration, specifically during this year," Nix said.
The BBB says online purchase scams in the past month made up 23% of reported scams in the Middle Tennessee region compared to 29% over 2020.
The BBB also believes ongoing effects of the pandemic, like product shortages and increased online shopping, are likely to result in even more online purchase scams in 2021.
"We know that there's a lot of factors that are affecting shopping, from people wanting to purchase online to shipping issues to microchip shortage," said Nix. "We're seeing all these factors that are affecting the supply of those really hot items that people want to get in those toys that people might want for the holiday season."
This is also a time where many people are still recovering financially from COVID-19, whether it's because of hospital bills or job loss and this could lead more people to look for the cheapest, best deal and to fall victim.
Nix says it's best to go with your instincts.
"We always tell people to trust your gut, take a second, take a breather and do a little bit more research on the vendor," Nix said.
We've all heard it before but if it looks too good to be true it's because it is.
BBB warns scammers will find ways to take advantage of the situation by varying the product categories, capitalizing on what people are looking for online and focusing on the most sought-after gifts such as electronics, toys, and other trendy gift items.
The BBB has tips to keep people from falling prey to online scams:
- If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase, then lost money was price. Don’t shop on price alone.
- Beware of fake websites: Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, research the age of the domain, and search for contact information. See BBB’s tips for identifying a fake website.
- Professional photos do not mean it’s a real offer. Respondents reported that website photos motivated them to engage with scammers, especially for pets/pet supplies, clothing/accessories, and vehicles.
- Make sure the website is secure. Look for the "https" in the URL (the extra "s" is for "secure") and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only “http” – it is NOT secure.
- Be careful purchasing sought-after products, especially during the holiday season. The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays because more people are making online purchases, and scammers offer the most popular products for the season at great prices.
- Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
- Look for the BBB seal. BBB Accredited Businesses pledge to uphold the BBB Standards for Trust and to deal fairly with consumers. If a business displays a BBB seal, verify it by going to BBB.org.
- Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. According to BBB's research, those who paid with a credit card were less likely to lose money. Be cautious when paying by digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards, or other non-traditional payment methods.
- Shipment tracking information can be faked. Look closely to make sure it is a legitimate business. Avoid clicking on the tracking link; go to the shipper's website and type in the code to see if it is real.
- Report unsatisfactory purchase experiences to BBB. If you are unhappy with a purchase, file a complaint at BBB.org/complaints. If you never got what you paid for, consider reporting it to BBB Scam Tracker to help other consumers avoid being scammed.
- Online purchase scams don’t just affect those who lose money. For every victim who lost money, that meant less income to buy groceries, gifts, pay the utility bill, or the loss of personal information that could lead to identity theft.