Online purchases are riskiest form of fraud

Staff reports

CINCINNATI – Step aside tax collection calls, it seems that surfing and purchasing items online are the riskiest form of online behavior, according to a new report from Better Business Bureau.

In 2017, people across the country reported more than 47,000 scams to BBB Scam Tracker. BBB analyzed this information using its unique BBB Scam Risk Index to determine the riskiest scams based on exposure, susceptibility, and monetary loss.

The findings, released for National Consumer Protection Week, show some significant changes from 2016:

Tax collection scams decreased 60% in volume of reports, likely due to the arrest in India in 2016 of the ringleader of a network of call centers primarily responsible for the IRS scam; Online purchase scams jumped from the 4th riskiest scam to the top spot, likely due to an increase in exposure; and

Home improvement scams dropped from 1st to 6th riskiest, despite a number of natural disasters that traditionally bring out “storm chasers.”

Young people continue to be at higher risk for scams, and susceptibility decreases with age, although dollars lost increases when victims are older. Why? Younger people have riskier online behavior such as sharing personal information and may be less familiar with what a scam looks like. However, even if they’re duped more often, older individuals are more likely to suffer a larger financial loss when they’re defrauded.

The most common online purchase scams in 2017 were related to pets, clothing, cosmetics, electronics and automobiles. The offer of free trials was a common tactic for these online purchases: 67% of scams involving cosmetics and 60% involving nutrition products mentioned a free trial opportunity.

The Top 10 riskiest scams in 2017 were:

1. Online purchase scam (up from No. 4 in 2016)

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

3. Employment scam (no change)

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

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

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

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

8. Travel/vacation scam (new to top 10, No. 12 in 2016)

9. Family/friend emergency scam (no change)

10. Government grant scam (new to top 10, No. 11 in 2016)

In Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, the Top 10 scams reported were:

1. Phishing (up from No. 7 in 2016)

2. Sweepstakes/Lottery/Prizes (no change in 2016)

3. Online Purchase (No. 5 in 2016)

4. Government Grant (No. 6 in 2016)

5. Tech Support (No. 4 in 2016)

6. Travel/Vacations (new to top 10,No. 23 in 2016)

7. Employment (No. 9 in 2016)

8. Tax Collection (No. 1 in 2016)

9. Debt Collections (No. 3 in 2016)

10. Counterfeit Products (new to top 10, No. 19 in 2016)

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. The top legitimate organizations that were used by scammers in 2017 were: U.S. Internal Revenue Service; U.S. Government; Better Business Bureau; Publishers Clearing House; and Microsoft.

Even though a phone call (landline or cell) is the primary means of contact for all the reports, in the past year, websites took over as the top mean of contact for scams with a monetary loss, which means that the susceptibility on the web is higher than phone calls overall. Regardless of the scam, scammers often rely on the following tactics:

1. The promise of getting a “great deal” (which is often too good to be true)

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

3. Intimidation (for example, “You are under federal investigation”; “You will be arrested within one hour unless you call this number”)

4. Isolation, which aims to force a decision without others’ opinions (“Don’t tell anyone”)

Scammers can also be very nice and personable, which can defy “bad guy “stereotypes and make targets more at risk. Keep in mind, scammers are clever and are always adjusting their tactics, so everyone, regardless of age, is vulnerable.

BBB Scam Tracker is helping us identify higher risks and debunk long-standing myths, but no one should let down their guard. For more information on specific scams and tips on how to avoid them, go to and report a scam to

Staff reports