Scammers have bilked Americans out of $545 million in Covid-related fraud since the beginning of 2020 in a range of schemes from online shopping to travel, according to the FTC.
The agency received almost 589,000 consumer complaints associated with the pandemic from Jan. 1, 2020 to Aug. 30, 2021. Roughly 61% of the reports concerned fraud; the median loss was $380.
“Scammers always take advantage of disasters, manmade or natural,” Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group, said last month.
Price-gouging was the most commonly reported pandemic-related issue in 2020, according to state and local consumer agencies polled for a recent Consumer Federation of America report. Consumers complained of being charged exorbitant prices for sought-after products such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper and masks.
Agencies also received Covid-associated complaints in a wide range of other categories, such as evictions, canceled events and travel, schools and childcare, the report said.
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The true scope of consumer complaints and losses is likely much higher than official statistics indicate, since the data is self-reported by consumers.
Online shopping accounted for the largest number of reported scams to the FTC, at nearly 55,000 complaints.
Americans increased their online orders during the pandemic since they spent more time indoors. But many were victims of “opportunistic websites” claiming to sell popular items — anything from hand sanitizer to gloves, electronics, clothing and even puppies, according to the FTC. Customers order the item but then never receive it.
Victims lost the largest amount of total money ($79 million) to vacation and travel scams, according to FTC data. Most fraud relates to refunds and cancellations, the agency said.
Travel has rebounded in recent months as Covid vaccinations have increased — and fraudsters have responded by creating fake airline ticket booking sites or customer service numbers, according to the Better Business Bureau.