As the holiday shopping season approaches, reports of online shopping fraud increased sharply for adults older than 60, according to a government report.
Reports of online shopping fraud more than doubled in 2020, and for the first half of 2021, the numbers continued to be far higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest report to Congress by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The pandemic is partly to blame as people stayed inside to avoid COVID and as many items became hard to find at local stores, sending people to their keyboards to shop, the report says.
But, people tended to lose less money to that kind of fraud than to other deceptions, it noted.
The reported median individual dollar loss to online shopping fraud by older adults in 2020 was $95.
Looking at all the frauds reported to the FTC, consumers 80 and older lost a median of $1,300, while those in their 70s reported a median loss of $650, the FTC said. Those in their 60s reported a median loss of $449, it said.
Romance scams garnered the largest overall dollar loss at $139 million, a rise of 66% from the year before, the FTC said. That was followed by sweepstakes scams ($69 million), business imposters ($65 million) and government imposter frauds ($58 million).
Consumer advocates say it can be challenging to avoid online shopping scams, especially as advertisements from little-known companies show up persistently on social media and other websites. And as supply chain troubles continue, ads for hard-to-get items may be too good to be true.
But consumers can take steps to protect themselves.
If you see an ad for a company you’ve never heard of, do some research.
First, Google the website name with the word “complaint.” Do it again with the word “review.” If the company is less-than-respectable, you’ll probably find a host of reports from other consumers about the quality of merchandise, refund and shipping issues.
Then check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if it has received any complaints.
A note on shipping: See what you can learn about where the company is located. Many common online shopping complaints involve super-slow shipping, and these are often from companies located outside of the United States.
If something doesn’t seem right, shop elsewhere.
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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at [email protected].