BBB warns of influx of online holiday shopping scams

Salt Lake City— Black Friday, the single busiest shopping day of the year, is going to look a bit different in 2020. Instead of setting an alarm to brave crowds for deeply discounted items, dedicated shoppers will be looking for deals online. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many brick-and-mortar businesses to either begin or improve their efforts in the digital space, and consumers are seeking great online shopping experiences to help them purchase their holiday gifts and supplies. 

Holiday online sales started in October with Amazon Prime Day, and many Black Friday deals have moved online in hopes of reducing in store crowds. With the Monday following Black Friday (Cyber Monday) becoming one of the top shopping days of the year, much of 2020 holiday shopping is expected to be done digitally. In fact, according to an Accenture survey, 75 percent of consumers say they’ll do at least some of their holiday shopping online this year. That’s up from 65 percent last year.

People are predicted to spend just under $1,000 this holiday season on gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. With the unpredictability of the COVID pandemic, this amount is slightly less than the 2019 holiday season.

While online shopping lessens the chance to spread and contract the virus, it’s not without its own risks. Every year BBB sees tens of thousands of consumers discover that what they ordered is not what they get. Some consumers find that once the order is placed, the company doesn’t send the product, or it is not of good quality. Additionally, in their 2020 Online Purchase Scams Report, BBB found that the top reason people lost money to online scams was the enticement of a sales price.

Better Business Bureau Serving Northern Nevada and Utah predicts these risks will only increase over the next few weeks, and are urging consumers to be on the lookout for deals that may be too good to be true.

“In 2020 so far, BBB has received 53,000 complaints from people who have had problems with online purchases,” said Jane Rupp, president and CEO. “Holidays add increased pressure and make us more vulnerable to scams. So as we get to the biggest holiday shopping day of the year, plus factoring in COVID concerns, people have to be wary.”

The following tips will help you maximize online shopping this holiday season while keeping your personal information and hard-earned money secure:

Beware of false advertising and phony websites. If a company is selling the hottest item of the year at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for false advertising and keep a close eye on the web address in your browser. Scammers love to create lookalike websites that, at first glance, appear to belong to a trusted retailer. Make sure websites use the correct spelling of a business name and have legitimate contact information and customer service numbers.

Shop with trustworthy sellers on secure sites only. Be wary of businesses you aren’t familiar with. Check their BBB Business Profile on, look at the rating, and read customer reviews. In addition, be sure any web page you purchase from is secure. Secure web addresses begin with HTTPS:// and not just HTTP://. Never put personal or credit card information in forms on non-secure web pages.

Keep your antivirus software up to date. Make sure you have antivirus software installed on your computer or mobile device, and that it is up to date. This will help you to avoid non-secure websites and pop-up phishing scams, and help keep your personal information safe.

Price check before you buy. Dozens of online retailers will claim they have the best price on an item, but their offers can be misleading. Do your homework by comparing prices. Remember that the best deal may not be the real deal.

Take advantage of rewards and loyalty programs. Check your credit card rewards program for special point offers that could add up on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and throughout the holidays. Make purchases using loyalty programs; many major retailers have them.

Use your credit card. It’s always best to make online purchases with your credit card. If any shady charges turn up later, you will be able to contest them through your credit card company. Debit cards don’t offer this same protection. Never make purchases with online sellers by giving them prepaid debit cards or wiring them money.

Understand return policies. Online store policies may change for online Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers. Read the fine print before you buy. Understand the return or exchange policy for the specific item you would like to purchase. Be aware that stores may not allow returns for “final sale” or “closeout” items. Make sure to get gift receipts, so the recipient can return or exchange the item if necessary.

Watch out for phishing scams. Busy schedules and increased purchases make it easier to miss – and fall victim to – a phishing scam. Look out for unsolicited emails, texts, calls, or letters. These messages may claim you have a free gift waiting for you or that there is a problem with a delivery – all you need to do is click on a link or give up your personal information. Avoid phishing scams by ignoring suspicious correspondence and calls from unfamiliar phone numbers.

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2019, people turned to BBB more than 183 million times for BBB Business Profiles on nearly 5.8 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at Today, BBB serving Northern Nevada and Utah is supported by just over 4,100 Accredited Businesses that have voluntarily committed to adhere to BBB’s Standards for Trust.