Americans have lost $13.4 million to coronavirus-related fraud since the beginning of the year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The figure is based on 18,235 reports related to Covid-19 that the agency has received from consumers since Jan. 1, according to a blog post published Wednesday by Paul Witt, lead data analyst in the FTC’s Division of Consumer Response and Operations.
Because not all consumers may have reported fraud to the agency, the true dollar figure could be much higher.
The top complaint categories for Covid-19 scams are related to travel and vacations, online shopping, bogus text messages and imposter scams, whereby the con artist pretends to be someone they’re not, according to Witt.
The IRS recently warned of scammers trying to steal the stimulus checks it’s sending Americans to help them weather the economic repercussions of Covid-19.
The agency started depositing those one-time payments — up to $1,200 per individual, $2,400 per couple and $500 extra per eligible dependent, depending on income levels — into people’s bank accounts within the past several days. Paper checks will arrive in May.
“We’ve spotted plenty of bogus cures and treatments, but many of you have told the FTC about straight-up scams, like texts/emails/calls from a ‘government agency’ promising to get your relief money for you,” Witt wrote.
Others reported frauds include scams like websites promising scarce cleaning products or masks, which then never arrive after being ordered, or problems related to being reimbursed for canceled travel plans.
The $13.4 million lost to these scams is around 3% of the total $432.4 million in fraud reported to the FTC through the end of March.
The typical American lost $270 among the nearly 310,000 cases of fraud reported to the agency over that time period.
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If you’re getting calls, emails or texts related to the coronavirus, or seeing related ads or offers online, here are some things to remember, according to Witt:
- The government will never call to ask for money or your personal information like Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers.
- Anyone who tells you to pay by Western Union or Money Gram, or by putting money on a gift card, is a scammer. The government and legitimate businesses will never tell you to pay with those methods.