COVID-19 isn’t canceling Christmas. In fact, Americans are projected to spend $740 billion on gifts, decor and more, a slight increase from 2019, according to the National Retail Federation.

But COVID-19 is changing how we spend. Online sales are expected to reach $189 billion this holiday season, up 33 percent over last year, according to Adobe Analytics. That’s two years of predicted growth in a single year.

And that explosion in e-commerce sales is like a medley of Christmas mornings for cybercriminals and identity thieves eager to crack your credit card,  plunder your bank account and steal your personal information.

“People will continue to actively shop online in order to reduce their exposure and keep their families safe,” says Melissa Lanning Trumpower, executive director of Better Business Bureau Institute for Marketplace Trust. “As this virus continues and circumstances change, scammers will try to take advantage.”

Anytime you plug payment information in online, you cast loose valuable information. In the wrong hands, that information can be used to access or open financial accounts in your name, drive up debt and destroy credit.

Crooks are also constructing legitimate-looking, but otherwise bogus websites, and luring deal-seekers with stellar sales that seem too good to be true and typically are just that. The unsuspecting consumers are placing orders, processing payments and never receiving their purchase.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, during April and May 2020, more people reported issues with online shopping than any other months on record, with more than half never receiving the products they ordered. Of the 84,000 Online Shopping and Negative Review complaints reported to the FTC in the second quarter of 2020, New Yorkers reported over 4,400 complaints and 75 percent resulted in monetary loss.

The best way to protect yourself is to routinely check your financial accounts and credit reports at each of the three national credit bureaus regularly.

BBB recommends the following tips to “Shop Safe, Shop Smart” this holiday season:

  • Research before you buy. Out of the 57 percent who did not research the website or business via an independent source (*like before making a purchase, 81 percent lost money.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 offer the most popular products for the season at great prices. 
  • Beware of making quick purchases while scrolling through social media. Scammers have access to tools they need to learn about your buying behaviors, offering exactly what you want at enticingly low prices.
  • Look for the BBB seal. BBB Accredited Businesses pledge to uphold the BBB Standards for Trust and to deal fairly with consumers. If a business displays a BBB seal, verify it by going to
  • Beware of phishing. Phishing emails can look like a message from a well-known brand, but clicking on unfamiliar links can place you at risk for malware and/or identity theft. One popular scam claims to be from a package-delivery company with links to “tracking information” on an order you don’t remember making. Don’t click!
  • Use secure and traceable transactions and payment methods. According to BBB’s research, those paid with a credit card were less likely to lose money. Be cautious when paying by digital wallet apps, prepaid money cards, or other non-traditional payment methods. Never make purchases with online sellers by giving them prepaid debit cards or wiring them money.
  • Shipment tracking information can be faked. Look closely to make sure it is a legitimate business. Avoid clicking on the tracking link; go to the ‘shipper’s website and type in the code to see if it is real.
  • Keep a clean machine. Install a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software for network security. Check for and install the latest updates and run virus scans regularly on your computer, tablet, and smart phone.