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Covid pandemic-related fraud has cost Americans $ 382 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
By Tuesday, according to the federal government, more than 217,000 people had submitted a coronavirus-related fraud report to the agency since January 2020. The median loss was $ 330.
The losses for seniors were higher, however – $ 500 for people in their 70s and $ 900 for people in their 80s.
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Criminals have used multiple avenues to steal money from unsuspecting Americans, including crimes related to financial relief such as stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, fake treatments for Covid-19, and fraudulent charities.
“While people fear for their health and finances, scammers have a big day,” Lucy Baker, a consumer advocate for US PIRG, told CNBC.
The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection filed 542,300 pandemic-related complaints in 2020, up 54% from 2019.
Americans filed more than 3,000 complaints almost every month as of April 2020 that mentioned coronavirus keywords, according to the Bureau, a federal agency that oversees consumer financial misconduct.
“The pandemic was one of the most disruptive long-term events we will see in our lives,” said Dave Uejio, acting director of the CFPB. “Unsurprisingly, the shock waves it sent across the planet were felt deep in the consumer financial market.”
Complaints about credit and consumer reports made up more than 58% of all complaints, followed by complaints related to debt collection (15%), credit card (7%), check or savings (6%) and mortgage (5%). Not all of these complaints were necessarily related to Covid.
Identity theft was also a common problem related to unemployment benefits collected during the pandemic.
Around 60,000 people have reported identity theft to the FTC since last year. The U.S. Department of Labor launched a website Monday Monday for Americans whose personal information has been stolen and used to obtain fraudulent unemployment benefits.
Americans are also falling victim to scams related to the introduction of Covid vaccines.
According to Rublon, an online security company, early access vaccine scams were the most common cyber scams during the pandemic. Scammers send emails, texts, and phone calls claiming they have access to a vaccine from official government sources.
The FTC’s $ 382 million is likely to underestimate the scope of the fraud as it is based on incidents detailed by consumers. Many may not have been reported.
“We all need to be on our guard,” said Baker. “Before you click, take a break first.
“Do your research and ask yourself if this website, email, text, direct message, or phone call is legitimate,” she added. “Be careful when handing over your money or personal information.”