Shop Safe, Shop Smart: how to stay safe from online scammers this holiday season

Local News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — With the holidays coming up and COVID-19 guidelines in place, more people are turning to the internet for their holiday shopping. However, online purchase scams are growing.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Western Virginia, 78% of Americans plan to heavily use online marketplaces like Amazon for holiday shopping in 2020. 59% of Americans indicate they’re uncomfortable going to a shopping mall this holiday season.

Online scams are nothing new, according to Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB Serving Western Virginia

“Every year, we see the same types of scams occur,” Wheeler explained. “There’s just going to be more of them this year.”

Fake websites and advertisements will pop up online, claiming to have popular or name-brand items at a cheap price.

BBB recommends following these online safety tips:

  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t shop on price alone. “If the price is way out of line, you’re not going to get what you think you’re going to get,” Wheeler said.
  • Professional photos do not mean it’s a real offer. Respondents reported that website photos motivated them to engage with scammers, especially for pets/pet supplies, clothing/accessories, and vehicles.
  • Do your homework, research before you buy from an unknown website. Out of the 57 percent who didn’t research the website or business through an independent source before making a purchase, 81 percent lost money.
  • Beware of fake websites: Check the URL, watch for bad grammar, research the age of the domain, search for contact information, and read online reviews.
  • Shipment tracking information can be faked. Look closely to make sure it’s a legitimate business. Don’t just click on the tracking link; go to the shipper’s website and type in the code to see if it’s real.
  • Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. Wheeler suggests using a credit card, not a debit card, to make purchases online. Paying with a credit card will allow you to dispute charges when you don’t receive your merchandise. Avoid paying by wire transfer, prepaid moneycard, gift card, or other non-traditional payment methods.
  • Don’t believe everything you see. Scammers are great at mimicking official seals, fonts, and other details. The website or email may look official, but it doesn’t mean it is. If a business displays a BBB Accreditation Seal, verify it by going to
    • Check for fake reviews for fakes. According to a recent study by, one-third of Amazon reviews are fakes.
  • Make sure the website is secure. Look for the “https” in the URL (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Never enter payment or personal information into a website with only “http” – it is NOT secure.
  • Be careful about purchasing hot ticket items and toys, especially during the holiday season. The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays because more people are making online purchases, and scammers offer the most popular products for the season at great prices.
    • Some of the most sought after toys this season include the Playstation 5, the Star Wars The Child Animatronic Edition (also known as Baby Yoda), and a realistic toy dog.

Wheeler says it’s important to make sure your computer or laptop has virus and malware protection.

“Be reasonable and be smart,” Wheeler said, “and realize that you’re going to pay a reasonable or normal price that most stores are offering something for and you’re not going to get it for half the price.”

You can report suspicious online activities and scams to BBB Scam Tracker to help other consumers avoid being scammed.

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