COVID-19 related scams have come at a cost of $382 million for Americans, with the latest update from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging the public to be vigilant with COVID-19 scams.
According to the latest numbers from the FTC, more than 217,000 Americans have filed a complaint with the commission related to a COVID-19 scam since January 2020.
The FTC says that on average, Americans lost $330 per scam, but these figures jumped depending on how old the victim was. COVID-19 scams netted scammers, on average, $500 from victims in their 70s, and $900 on average from those in their 80s.
The FTC says that scammers are using a number of techniques to lure victims and manipulate their way to a payment. These include calls and messages related to relief measures like the government’s stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, as well as vaccine updates.
The latest figures from the FTC have been strengthened by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who said it had received 542,300 complaints in 2020.
This represented a 54% jump in the number of complaints it received in 2019.
Lucy Baker, a consumer defense associate has told CNBC that “while people are scared about their health and finances, con artists are having a field day.”
“We all need to be on our guard,” she said. “Before you click, pause first.”
“Do your research and ask yourself if that website, email, text, direct message or call is legit. Be wary of handing over your money or personal information,” Baker added.
By the look of it, scammers wasted no time in deploying COVID-related scams, with more than 3,000 complaints submitted to the FTC mentioning the words coronavirus since April, 2020.
Dave Uejio, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has said that “the pandemic has been among the most disruptive long-term events we will see in our lifetimes.. Not surprisingly, the shockwaves it sent across the planet were felt deeply in the consumer finance marketplace,” he added.
FTC Says COVID-19 Scams Cost Americans $382 Million
The FTC says that credit and consumer reporting complaints made up 58% of the complaints it received related to COVID scams, with debt collection scams (15%), credit card fraud (7%), savings accounts (6%) and mortgages (5%) rounding out the top-five.
Identity theft is also a common tactic that scammers have deployed with their COVID-related scams, with malicious actors attempting to collect unemployment benefits and stimulus checks intended for the original recipient.
More than 60,000 complaints have been made to the FTC regarding various forms of identity theft. This has prompted the U.S. Labor Department to create a new, specialised website designed to provide victims of scams and identity theft with an avenue to report them more directly.
One of the most popular forms of fraud deployed by scammers are related to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a number of scams promising their victims early access to the vaccine.
Online security firms have reported that scammers are increasingly sending emails, phone calls and text messages to victims claiming to be from a government department, offering them the opportunity to have early access to the vaccine; weeks, if not months before the official rollout.