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Covid-related scams have bilked Americans out of $586 million

Covid-related scams have bilked Americans out of $586 million

18 Oct 2021

boonchai wedmakawand | Moment | Getty Images

Consumers have lost $586 million to fraud linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission.

Americans filed more than 269,000 fraud complaints from the beginning of 2020 to Oct. 14, 2021, according to most recent federal data. (Consumers cited Covid, stimulus or related terms in the complaints.)

The typical victim (as measured by the median) lost $392, in a range of schemes targeting online shoppers, travelers and others. The losses skew higher for older Americans: Seniors over age 80 lost $1,000 each.

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However, pandemic-related scams appear to be declining, officials report.

There were 273 consumer complaints filed Thursday (as measured by the rolling 14-day average), according to FTC data. That’s the lowest level since March 16, 2020.

It’s also about eight times less than the 2,100-daily-complaint peak in early April this year, around the time Covid vaccinations were beginning to be deployed more broadly and the federal government was issuing $1,400 stimulus checks authorized by the American Rescue Plan.

Online shopping accounted for the largest number of reported scams to the FTC, at about 57,600 complaints.

Americans increased their online shopping activity during the pandemic, since they were spending more time indoors.

But many were victims of “opportunistic websites” claiming to sell popular, in-demand items — anything from hand sanitizer and gloves to electronics, clothing and even puppies, according to the FTC. Customers ordered the items but then never received them.

Price-gouging was also prevalent. It was the most commonly reported pandemic-related issue in 2020, according to state and local consumer agencies polled by the Consumer Federation of America. Consumers complained of being charged exorbitant prices for sought-after products such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper and masks.

State and local agencies also received Covid-associated complaints in a wide range of other categories, such as evictions, canceled events and travel, schools and child care, the report said.

Victims lost the largest amount of total money ($81 million) to vacation and travel scams, according to FTC data. Most fraud relates to refunds and cancellations, the agency said.

The true scope of consumer complaints and losses is likely much higher than official statistics indicate, since the data is self-reported by consumers.