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Online Shopping Scams

Whether you’re looking online to buy a new pet, used car or parts, or even some medical supplies, you’re not alone. Online shopping has increased since the pandemic and scammers have taken note. According to the Better Business Bureau’s 2020 Scam TrackerSM Risk Report, online purchase scams were the most-reported scams of the year.

It’s hard to spot scams just by looking at a webpage or social media post and it’s easy for scammers to block you from contacting them after they’ve stolen your money. These are just a few things we’ve heard from customers who paid for items that they never received.

Here are some recent scam stories from customers:

“I made a Zelle® payment for $260 to a person who was selling a dog and then they emailed me saying it’s going to cost an additional $800 before I can get the dog. It seems like I’m getting scammed. I asked them to send me my money back, but they wouldn’t.”

“I sent a wire for a down payment on a wedding dress. The merchant is no longer responding to me.”

“I paid for a boat and realized after wiring [the money], the company is a scam. All the info online says the company is a scam company.”

“I thought I was paying a down payment on a new place, but when I contacted the rental office they told me it was a scam.”

How to help protect yourself

If you’re suspicious about an offer you found online, ask yourself:

Is the deal too good to be true?

We all love a good deal, but if the price is far below what you would normally expect to pay, that’s a red flag. Most people try to get a fair price when they sell. A deep discount could be the sign of a scammer trying to lure you in, only to tack on additional fees once you make the first payment.


Is the seller pressuring you to buy right away?

If the seller requires you to pay a fee to “hold” an item, even if they say it’s refundable, walk away. They may also repeatedly contact you and pressure you to act immediately using emotional pleas such as a death in the family, divorce, or deployment to make you feel obligated to complete the purchase.


Does the seller refuse to meet?

If your only communication is through text, email, or a mobile app, especially for a big-ticket item, be cautious. Before you buy, request a video call to help verify the seller and the item. For local purchases, know that scammers often advertise “contactless” pick up, but they never intend to deliver the product.


Does the seller only accept cash-like payments?

Think twice before paying with a wire transfer, gift card, mobile payment app, or payment service such as Zelle. Scammers prefer these methods because they are usually immediate forms of payment and make it harder to get your money back. Instead, use a method that offers more protection when you shop online such as a credit card.


If you answered “yes” to any of the questions, keep shopping. Remember, it’s better to be cautious and risk losing a deal rather than lose your money. If you’ve already sent money, report the scam right away to your bank and the Federal Trade Commission.

Learn more about online shopping scams at, eBay Motors Security Center, and the Better Business Bureau.