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The BBB has issued a warning to consumers to watch out for the top scam of 2021 so far – online purchase scams.

HUNTINGTON — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, online purchase scams have jumped along with an increase in online shopping, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB has issued a warning to consumers to watch out for the top scam of 2021 so far: online purchase scams. Online purchase scams now account for more than a third of all scam reports filed with the BBB, and four out of five consumers who report such scams lose money, according to a BBB report released Tuesday.

The 2021 BBB Online Purchase Scams Report examined more than 55,000 online purchase scam reports submitted to BBB Scam Tracker between 2015 and 2021 as well as new survey research conducted in 2021 to get insights from those who reported online purchase scams in 2020 and 2021.

Online purchase scams consistently rank among the top three riskiest since 2017, and a significant number of people — 74.8% in 2021 — continue to lose money when targeted by online purchase scams. The median dollar loss has risen in recent years, up from $76 in 2019 to $102 so far in 2021, according to the report.

In many cases, customers were actively searching for a business and came across the scam on Google.

However, half the people who reported losing money through a Facebook ad weren’t initially looking to make a purchase. These “passive buyers” saw something that caused them act and it led to them losing money, the BBB said.

The report showed that when it came time to placing an order and expecting the item to be shipped, 32% surveyed reported receiving shipment tracking information that seemed authentic, 30% received fake shipping information, 2% received shipping information they didn’t verify and 36% didn’t receive shipping information. Several survey respondents noted that they didn’t suspect a scam at first because they expected shipping delays due to the pandemic.

The analysis of online purchase scam reports submitted to BBB Scam Tracker found that more than 400 different types of products were used by scammers to perpetrate scams. Pets and pet supplies were the riskiest sales category in 2020. Almost 35% of online purchase scam reports were pet-related, with 70% of people losing money, and a median dollar loss of $750. The French Bulldog was the top breed used to perpetuate puppy scams.

Experts are predicting an earlier start to the 2021 holiday shopping season because of supply chain concerns, microchip shortages and holiday hiring. 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.

“These critical findings can help guide our scam prevention outreach to those most vulnerable to these scam types,” Melissa Trumpower, executive director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, the BBB’s foundation, said in the report. “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.”

For tips on how to avoid online shopping scams, visit BBB.org/OnlinePurchaseScams. To report a scam, go to BBB.org/ScamTracker.

GAS PRICES CONTINUE TO CLIMB: The national average price for a gallon of gasoline increased 8 cents on the week to reach $3.27. It was the highest price since October 2014, according to the American Automobile Association.

AAA’s gasoline report said the key driver for the recent rise in the price of gas is crude oil, which typically accounts for between 50% and 60% of the price at the pump.

“For the last several days, the cost of crude oil has been over $80 per barrel. And last week’s decision by OPEC and its oil-producing allies to not increase production further only exacerbated the upward momentum for crude oil prices,” the report said.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, total domestic gasoline stocks increased by 3.3 million barrels to 225.1 million barrels last week. Gasoline demand also increased slightly from 9.4 million barrels per day to 9.44 million barrels per day. The increase in demand aided in the national average’s rise, the report added.

The current national average of $3.27 is 10 cents more than a month ago, $1.09 more than a year ago, and 63 cents more than pre-pandemic in 2019.

West Virginia’s average price was under the national average at $3.137 a gallon for regular unleaded, which is nearly 90 cents higher than last year and 2 cents higher than last month. Gasoline in the Huntington area averaged $3.147, only a penny higher than the state average.

Motorists can find current gas prices nationwide, statewide, and countywide at GasPrices.AAA.com.

Fred Pace is the business reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Send your business news and photos to fpace@hdmediallc.com. You can also call 304-526-2729. Follow him at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

Fred has been in the newspaper industry for 30+ years. He continues to be excited to bring readers news that only comes thru local journalism. “Being able to share the passion felt by entrepreneurs in our community with readers is exciting,” he said.

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