Investigators: Memphis-area residents lost more money to scams last year than any other city in Tennessee

Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 9:24 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Mid-Southerners were scammed out of more money than any other region in Tennessee last year.

A new report from the Mid-South Better Business Bureau shows the amount of money stolen by scammers in this area was more than Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga combined.


One couple was scammed while looking for a dachshund puppy.

The victim reported to the BBB that she found the website and “the dogs were so pretty!”

The woman’s husband then “met an older gentleman at a gas station with 3 puppies...all 3 looked sickly.”

The husband paid $400 for one of them but when he took the puppy to the vet, the vet said the “3-month-old puppy was around 2 years old. His papers were fake, and the owners didn’t respond to calls or emails.” is now defunct and the victim’s report was classified by the BBB as an online purchase scam.

“There’s so many fake websites out there,” said Daniel Irwin, who does research and investigations for the Mid-South BBB.

Related | The Investigators: Hundreds of Mid-Southerners have reported scams this year. This tool may help you avoid becoming a victim

Irwin answers scam victims’ calls and then puts their reports in their Scam Tracker tool, where consumers can search by region or scam type to find out what scammers are trying to pull in their area.

Irwin says Mid-Southerners, like the couple who bought the dog, lost $50,640 total to online purchase scams last year. That’s more money lost to any other scam last year.

Online purchase scam reports surged in 2020 by 183% compared to 2019. Irwin said that’s a direct correction with COVID-19.

“Why is it so easy to fall victim to an online purchase scam?” The Investigators asked Irwin.

“It’s just very hard, even for someone who knows what they’re doing, to tell whether a site’s real or not,” he said.

Mid-Southerners also fell for more scams overall last year than ever before.

In 2020, the BBB received 810 scam reports and victims lost $205,697.32.

“Why do you think that is?” asked The Investigators.

“Memphis was economically devastated by COVID-19 so we saw a lot of people targeting Memphis residents,” said Irwin.

The most common scam Memphis residents reported last year was phishing.

Related | The Investigators: Mid-Southerners losing thousands buying products on fake websites, purchasing puppies that never arrive

Phishing happens when imposters try to get consumers’ passwords, personal or financial information.

This Mid-Southerner reported she received a call from someone claiming to be from Apple support.

The woman reported they “sent me to a store where I was supposed to buy two gift cards for a total of $700...she was very convincing.”

This woman did not fall for it and did not buy the gift cards.

In fact, most people contacted by scammers report they didn’t lose money. Those who did are usually 55-years-old or older.

“Younger people fall for scams more often but older people lose more money when they do fall for a scam,” said Irwin.

“Do you think these are all the people who were scammed last year or do you think there are more than this?” asked The Investigators.

“Oh, there’s quite a bit more. Our estimates are that 1 in 17 people report a scam. It’s just a very, very small amount of people who actually report it,” he said.

People are embarrassed, said Irwin, no one wants to admit when they fall victim to a scam.

Related | The Investigators: Mid-Southerners targeted by vaccine scams

To avoid online scams, which again claimed more money lost than any other scam type, the BBB offers these tips:

  • Know the advertiser: it’s easy for a fake site to mimic a famous retailer’s website.
  • Check a site’s security settings: there should be a ‘lock’ icon in the URL bar.
  • Make sure you read the fine print and look for a return policy before you buy.

If someone is asking you for your personal or financial information, always be cautious. Ask questions and do your research.

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