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Holiday shopping in a pandemic: Snag deals, avoid scams and shop local

Get tips from the professionals on how to shop online safely and the importance of buying local

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. – Retailers are now shifting into the holiday season and to limit the crowds you’ll see those Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals much earlier.

We’ve seen online shopping takeover during this pandemic and the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia expects holiday shopping won’t be any different. The other side of the coin is this brings more opportunities for people to take advantage and scam you.

According to the BBB, 80.5% of consumers in 2020 have reported online purchase scams and lost money, up from 24.3% in 2019. The platforms most reported by people who saw items and lost money were Facebook (1), Google (2), direct merchant’s website, (3) Instagram and (4) pop up ad in social media when actively shopping.

The BBB is launching its Shop Safe and Shop Small campaign later in November. With many people new to online shopping Better Business Bureau has a few online safety tips and reminders.

  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. The top motivating factor for people who made a purchase, then lost money was price. Don’t shop on price alone.
  • 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.
  • Research before you buy. Out of the 57 percent who didn’t research the website or business via an independent source (*like 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.
  • Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering up exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
  • 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. According to BBB’s research, those who paid with a credit card or PayPal were less likely to lose money. 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
  • 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 purchasing sought-after products, especially during the holiday season. The risk of online purchase scams rises during the holidays because more people are making online purchases, and scammers are offering the most popular products for the season at great prices.
  • Report suspicious activities to BBB Scam Tracker

President and CEO of Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia, Julie Wheeler also suggests shopping online at a local small business or if they don’t have a website, visiting the business in-person.

“Check them out, you want them here, you want them to thrive, you want to make sure that when you want that special something and you have somewhere to go and find it," said Wheeler.

Small businesses were forced to close starting in March until some as late as June and July. During that time a lot of shoppers turned to online shopping but now that those same small businesses are back open people are sticking to the web for their needs.

It’s a problem Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce director Sharon Scott is seeing businesses in the area deal with.

Montgomery County is also unique because businesses have also lost Virginia Tech students. Then the university limited the number of fans at games. It’s estimated that will lead to a more than $70 million loss to the area’s economy.

Scott is encouraging holiday shoppers to check out all businesses in the area to keep money flowing within the community.

“Our small ones are important to us, our locally owned, locally operated are equally as important because they are our friends and neighbors that need to have their jobs but it’s also about retaining those tax dollars,” Scott said.

There are also economic campaigns going on like #SaveBlacksburg.

About the Author:

Megan Woods is thrilled to be back home and reporting at Local 4. She joined the team in September 2021. Before returning to Michigan, Megan reported at stations across the country including Northern Michigan, Southwest Louisiana and a sister station in Southwest Virginia.