BBB report: Young adults more prone to scams

Better Business Bureau reports online purchase the highest scam risk in wake of COVID-19; consumers aged 18 to 24 report highest losses

CHICAGO – In the era of COVID-19 with the masses stuck in their homes doing more shopping online, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports scammers have taken the opportunity to prey on unsuspecting shoppers.

More scams were perpetrated online and yielded the highest likelihood of financial loss in 2020. This is likely connected to consumer habit shifts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; in a survey of over 5,000 individuals that reported scams to BBB Scam TrackerSM or in 2020, 43.1% said they spent more time online due to the pandemic, and 57.1% said they purchased more online because of the pandemic.

Adults aged 18 to 24 reported the highest median losses ($150) and the highest likelihood of loss (56.6%) to BBB Scam TrackerSM in 2020, according to BBB. Previously, older age groups consistently lost higher median dollar amounts to scammers year over year, even while young adults tended to lose money more often. This year, the financial loss reported by those 18 to 24 was equal to that of adults 65 and over.


“Scammers go where they feel they can best take advantage of people,” said Melissa Lanning Trumpower, executive director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, BBB’s educational foundation, which produced the report. “Not surprisingly, scams perpetrated online through web sites and social media apps were the riskiest contact methods for all age groups in 2020—including both young adults as well as older adults.”

The BBB report says according to a survey of individuals that reported a scam in 2020 to BBB Scam Tracker, 43.1% of respondents said they were spending more time online because of COVID-19 and 57.1% said they were purchasing more online because of the pandemic.

“Scammers are opportunists,” said Trumpower. “If there is a shortage of a product, or an opportunity to leverage a person’s heightened emotional state—they will use that scarcity or fear for their personal gain. Scammers will also imposter a recognizable and respected organization or brand to get your attention.”

The most common products promised but not delivered once payment was made included pets and pet supplies and medical/nutrition products. Pet product scams spiked following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pets and pet supplies made up 34.5% of online purchase scams, with 70.3% of people losing money when targeted by this scam type. The median dollar loss for pet-related scams was $750, significantly higher than all other product types used for scams. Medical/nutrition supplies, which included masks and other products needed during the pandemic, made up 7.9% of online purchase scams reported and were especially prevalent at the beginning of the pandemic; 82.6% of people exposed to this product type lost money.

Another way scammers take advantage of younger adults in particular is by utilizing a payment method less familiar to younger generations: checks. Fake check scams were the second most risky scam for adults ages 18-24 in a year where payment via online payment systems rose across all age groups. Fake check scams yielded one of the highest median dollar losses per encounter at $1,679 in 2020.

“Scams aren’t just a drain to people’s wallets,” Trumpower noted. “In our annual study of individuals that reported a scam to BBB Scam Tracker, a majority reported losing time and confidence or peace of mind in the marketplace, with over one-third also losing personally identifiable information in the encounter. We share these insights to help fight fraud and promote a trustworthy marketplace for all.”

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