Online purchasing scams are now highest risk in cybercrime


Posted 3/12/18


Associate Editor

Heightened warnings by news media outlets and consumer protection groups have been credited with putting a dent in home improvement scams, but the bad guys are …

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Online purchasing scams are now highest risk in cybercrime



Associate Editor

Heightened warnings by news media outlets and consumer protection groups have been credited with putting a dent in home improvement scams, but the bad guys are now moving to online purchasing as their newest device for wrongdoing.

BBB Scam Tracker data from 2017 shows scams involving online purchasing have now become the highest-risk form of consumer fraud, according to Lisa Geren, executive director of the Better Business Bureau office in Cleveland.

In 2016, online purchasing scams were considered the fourth riskiest to consumers; however, that danger has catapulted to the top — partially because the public is catching on to the tricks and traits of more conventional crimes, Geren pointed out.

Referring to information provided by BBB Scam Tracker, Geren said in 2017 consumers reported more than 47,000 scams.

“BBB analyzed this information using its unique BBB Scam Risk Index to determine the riskiest scams based on exposure, susceptibility and monetary loss,” Geren said.

The findings were originally released for a pair of consumer-protection observations: National Consumer Protection Week (U.S.) and Fraud Prevention Month (Canada).

Data shows some significant changes in consumer fraud from 2016 to 2017. Three include:

• Tax collection scams decreased 60 percent in number of reports. “This is likely due to the arrest in India in 2016 of the ringleader of a network of call centers primarily responsible for the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) scam,” Geren cited.

• Online purchase scams jumped from the fourth riskiest scam to the top spot, “… likely due to an increase in exposure.” 

• Home improvement scams dropped from first to sixth in terms of risk. This might have surprised some analysts because of a large number of 2017 disasters nationwide that normally bring out what the industry pegs as “stormchasers.”

Young people

are now more

at risk of scams

Another 2017 statistic raised a few eyebrows, but the explanation is probably in total numbers of types of users; that is, more young people — and not the older generation — are at higher risk for scams.

“… Susceptibility decreases with age, although dollars lost increases when victims are older,” the BBB report cites.

The “2017 BBB Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report: New Trends in Scam Risk” included some good news, Geren explained. She pointed to information provided by a BBB Institute official.

“Although we saw an increase in total scam reports, the good news is that susceptibility was down,” said Melissa Trumpower, director of Programs and Operations for the BBB Institute.

As co-author of the detailed report, Trumpower explained, “The percentage of those reporting who actually lost money to a scam fell from 18.8 percent in 2016 to 15.8 percent in 2017. We also saw a 17 percent decrease in the median monetary loss, down to $228.”

The annual Scam Tracker report also pointed to a new scheme in 2017. BBB dubbed it “Can You Hear Me?” 

“BBB Scam Tracker received more than 10,000 reports on the ‘Can You Hear Me?’ scam, but virtually none of those reporting could point to an actual monetary loss due to the calls,” noted Tumpower’s co-author, Dr. Rubens Pessanha, senior director of Market Research, Insights and Strategy with the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Subsequently, BBB could not classify the “Can You Hear Me” reports as actual scams, he added.

Online purchasing

now considered

biggest threat

Geren stressed consumer fraud’s biggest threat in 2017 was online purchasing. These types of crimes mostly included pet supplies, clothing, cosmetics, electronics and automobiles.

“The offer of free trials was a common tactic for these online purchases: 67 percent of these scams involved cosmetics, and 60 percent that involved nutrition products mentioned a free trial opportunity,” Geren explained. 

She added, “Another significant increase was in the category of investment scams, which tend to target older age groups and come with a higher average monetary loss. This scam type jumped from the sixth riskiest in 2016, to the second riskiest in 2017.”

Although the past year was plagued by weather disasters like hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the number of home-improvement scams actually dropped for the year.

“BBB believes this may have been due to a significant increase in information from the media and consumer protection groups surrounding home-improvement scams following disasters like Irma and Harvey,” she said.

The same is true at community levels where towns or cities are impacted by strong storms, tornadoes or flash floods. In those cases, local BBB offices, law enforcement agencies and news media outlets partner to keep the public aware of scams or potential schemes in the area, Geren explained.

Top 10 scams

as reported

to BBB in 2017

The BBB Scam Tracker report ranked the year’s 10 riskiest types of scams. They included:

• No. 1: Online purchasing scam (up from No. 4 in 2016);

• No. 2: Investment scam (up from No. 6 in 2016);

• No. 3: Employment scam (no change);

• No. 4: Advance fee loan scam (up from No. 5 in 2016);

• No. 5: Fake check scam (down from No. 2 in 2016);

• No. 6: Home improvement scam (down from No. 1 in 2016);

• No. 7: Tech support scam (up from No. 8 in 2016);

• No. 8: Travel and vacation scam (new to Top 10; No. 12 in 2016);

• No. 9: Family or friend emergency scam (no change); and

• No. 10: Government grants scam (new to Top 10; No. 11 in 2016).

Of the travel and vacation scams, the most frequently used destinations included Orlando (Florida), Disney amusement parks, Cancun (Mexico) and the Bahamas.

In 2017, two types of scams left the BBB’s Top 10. They were romance scams and schemes involving sweepstakes, lotteries and prizes.

“One of the most common tactics of scammers is impersonation, where the scammer pretends to be a legitimate business that is well known and trusted by the consumer,” Geren said. 

She pointed to the legitimate organizations used most frequently in 2017 scams: U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Government (grants, Treasury, Reserve and Medicare), the Better Business Bureau, Publishers Clearing House and Microsoft.

Phone calls

still dangerous;

websites worse

“Even though a phone call is the primary means of contact for all the reports, in the last year websites took over as the top means of contact for scams involving monetary loss,” Geren stressed. “This means susceptibility on the web is now higher overall than phone calls.”

Regardless of the type of scam, Geren said criminals most often rely on some of the same tactics, including:

• Promises of getting a “great deal” that often sound too good to be true.

• Pressure to respond immediately with offers that are time-sensitive and prices that “can’t be guaranteed.”

• Intimidation that uses lines like: “You are under federal investigation,” or “you will be arrested within one hour unless you call this number.”

• Isolation ploy that forces immediate decisions without getting the opinion of others.

“Scammers can also be very nice and personable, and this can defy the ‘bad guy’ stereotypes,” she said. “It can put targets (consumers) more at risk.”

Geren stressed the bottom line to the 2017 BBB Scam Tracker report is that anyone can fall victim.

“Scammers are clever and are always adjusting their tactics,” she said. “So, everyone is vulnerable. BBB Scam Tracker is helping us identify higher risks and debunk longstanding myths, but no one should let down their guard.”

For detailed information about specific scams and tips on how to avoid them, visit

To report a scam, visit

For additional information, contact Geren at the BBB Cleveland office at 423-464-5969.


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