COVID-19-related scams cost Americans more than $98 million since the start of 2020

Online shopping is the most prevalent type of scam with people losing nearly $14 million to date, according to FTC data.

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Americans have reported 152,129 coronavirus-related fraud cases to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) since the start of 2020, according to data analyzed by Atlas VPN.

FTC data further revealed that Americans have lost more than $98 million to COVID-19 and stimulus check scams.

Online shopping scams were the most common, with 23,482 cases reported as of Aug. 4, the FTC said. Unsuspecting victims were swindled out of $13.8 million.

Cybercriminals are building scam websites and preying on people's emotions by tricking them into purchasing supplements, masks, and sometimes even "vaccines" that are not approved by the FDA, the report found.

Travel and vacation scams account for even bigger losses, totaling $33.71 million since the start of the year, with US citizens reporting 17,659 travel and vacation complaints, according to the FTC. 

"It turns out that hotels and flight companies are not in a hurry to issue refunds to customers, which is the main contributing factor to these reports," Atlas VPN said.

On average, consumers reported 707 fraud cases a day to the FTC between Jan. 1 and Aug. 2. The most complaints were received on April 15, Atlas VPN reported.

SEE: Twitter accounts of Elon Musk, Bill Gates and others hijacked to promote crypto scam (TechRepublic)

Complaints by age and state

In terms of demographics, the findings were somewhat unexpected. Most complaints came from people aged 30-39, who experienced monetary damages of $8.8 million.

Even though there were fewer reports from people 40-49, they lost the most money: $12 million.

Interestingly, people 80 and over were scammed the least–there were only 536 reports from this age group, Atlas VPN said. "On the other hand, if older people got scammed, their average losses were more significant, with around $551 loss per complaint," the company noted. "All younger citizens lost $200 or less per case."

The numbers of complaints and monetary damages "are only the tip of the iceberg, as many people do not report scams," Atlas VPN added.

The most reports came from California, where citizens have reported 15,501 COVID-19 scams since the start of the year, followed by Florida, with 10,228 complaints, and Texas, with 9,304 complaints, followed closely by New York, with 9,139 complaints. The fewest complaints came from North and South Dakota, with 125 and 138 reports, respectively.

Fight back: Tips to avoid coronavirus scams

Cybercriminals are seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to take advantage of citizens who are anxious and panicking. Atlas VPN shared three main tips on how to avoid the most common coronavirus-related scams:

  • Do not respond to texts, emails, or calls about checks from the government. Citizens should use the IRS website to provide information to the IRS. The IRS will never contact someone by email, phone, or text regarding the stimulus payment. If you are contacted and asked for your Social Security number or any other sensitive information, assume that a fraudster is trying to steal it.

  • Do not buy vaccinations or home testing kits. There are thousands of websites pretending to sell COVID-19 cures or brand-new supplements that are not approved by the FDA. In a previous coronavirus-related scam analysis, Atlas VPN  found that scammers created over 316,523 coronavirus-themed websites from March 9 to March 23.

  • Do not open emails from untrusted sources. These emails likely contain a malicious attachment or a link to a website. It did not take long for cybercriminals to create fake sites pretending to be the World Health Organization, or other authoritative sources, Atlas VPN said. Scam websites can install malware that can steal information from the victim's PC. Instead, the company advised people to use sites like coronavirus.gov and USA.gov to get the latest COVID-19 information.

 

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By Esther Shein

Esther Shein is a longtime freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in several online and print publications. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of Datamation, a managing editor at BYTE, and a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week)...