Americans have been bilked out of $382 million due to fraud linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission.
CNBC reported that as of Tuesday, more than 217,000 people had filed COVID-related fraud reports with the FTC since January 2020, with a median loss of $330. Seniors got the worst of it. People in their 70s suffered median losses of $500, while those in their 80s had a median loss of $900.
Victims have been defrauded in multiple ways since the pandemic began. Some scams have focused on government-related financial relief such as stimulus checks. Contract-tracing scams, where the fraudsters attempt to collect financial, rather than health, information, have also been reported, the FTC warns. Other scams have involved fake COVID treatments, test kits and vaccines and non-existent charities. In addition, consumers have received robo-calls pitching fake health insurance and work-from-home opportunities.
“‘While people are scared about their health and finances, con artists are having a field day,’ Lucy Baker, a consumer defense associate at advocacy group U.S. PIRG, told CNBC.”
Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fielded 542,300 complaints, which was an increase of 54% from 2019, CNBC reported. Since April 2020, Americans have filed more than 3,000 COVID-related complaints nearly every month.
Credit and consumer reporting complaints represented nearly 60% of the total complaints, followed by complaints related to debt collection (15%), credit cards (7%), checking or savings accounts (6%), and mortgages (5%), CNBC reported. Not all were related to COVID.
Meanwhile, around 60,000 Americans reported identity theft to the FTC since last year, the FTC report shows. In response, the Department of Labor on Monday launched a website for people whose stolen personal data was used to claim fraudulent unemployment benefits, CNBC reported.
The United States isn’t the only country to suffer from fraud connected to the coronavirus. On Wednesday, the BBC reported that more than 6,000 cases of COVID-related fraud and cyber-crime have been recorded by the U.K.’s police forces during the pandemic. The country’s Action Fraud team said 34.5 million British pounds, or the equivalent of about $47 million, had been stolen since March 1, 2020.
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