RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More people will be shopping online this holiday season as coronavirus cases climb and cybercriminals are counting on it.

Cybersecurity researchers at Comparitech found more than 5,000 scam and phishing websites have already been registered in a run-up to Black Friday.

Already this year, Barry N Moore, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central Virginia,says a staggering 80.5% of consumers who reported an online purchase scam lost money.

“The thieves are really working the online world pretty heavy right now,” Moore said.

Amy Nofziger, Director of Victim Support for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network says the crooks are more clever than ever.

“We know that the scammers are creating bogus websites. They’re sending fake text messages with malicious links,” Nofziger said.

Moore offers a tip for distinguishing between a fake website from the real thing.

“One of the things to look for is the HTTP,” he suggested. “If you don’t see that on that website, it is not secure.”

Also, look for the secure lock symbol next to the address in the browser; it’s another sign the site is secure. Poor grammar, shoddy graphics, and if the deal sounds too good to be true, can all be tell-tale signs of a counterfeit or a con.

“The red flags you want to watch out for are definitely the bargain basement prices,” Nofziger said.

Locals may feel they won’t fall for any scams but beware, scammers like to lure their victims through social media pop up ads. According to the BBB, most of the shoppers who say they got scammed online in 2020, reported that it involved a product they saw advertised on Facebook or Instagram.

Lastly, be wary of vendors asking you to pay with one of those money transfer apps like Cash App, Venmo, or Zelle.

“Those don’t have consumer protections with them and once you send money to them it’s gone,” Nofziger said.

For the best protection, pay with plastic.

“If you use your credit card when you are paying, at least you have somebody behind you that can help dispute something,” Moore said.

Anyone who thinks they’ve been scammed should report their grievances to BBB by clicking here.
Some can also find more tips for avoiding online shopping scams by clicking here.

Anyone worried a website, text or email might be a scam, AARP offers a free helpline at (877) 908-3360.The nonprofit also has a scam tracking map and more resources on their website.