They say that crisis breeds opportunity. Well, fraudsters certainly got the memo.
Americans have lost more than $100 million to fraud connected to COVID-19, the Federal Trade Commission revealed this week, with more than 160,000 fraud reports filed with authorities over everything from stolen stimulus checks to phony job offers and mortgage scams.
Personal finance website The Ascent parsed through the FTC’s numbers to document the various forms of fraud that have plagued Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. It found that phone calls were the most commonly reported method deployed by fraudsters, with nearly 9,700 cases that resulted in nearly $15 million in losses as of August 10. However, email-related fraud resulted in the largest losses, with more than 8,400 reported cases that cost Americans roughly $18 million.
Online shopping offers have been the most common source of fraud reports—with more than 24,400 instances reported, often involving phony products and services, that have cost consumers more than $14 million. Yet travel-related schemes have caused significantly more damage, with more than $35 million lost through nearly 18,700 reported instances of fraud, often involving trip-related refunds and cancellations.
Common examples of coronavirus-related fraud reported to the FTC include fake offers for at-home COVID-19 tests or vaccinations, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE). Others have fallen victim to identity theft related to fraudulent stimulus check offers, as well as scams involving mortgages, health insurance, and job opportunities.
The statistics also offer a geographic breakdown of where fraud has been particularly prevalent. While California, the nation’s most populous state, has seen the largest fraud-related losses with more than $15.6 million lost to scammers, other parts of the country have reported significantly higher instances of fraud per capita.
Maine leads the way with an average of 6.84 fraud reports for every 10,000 people, while the District of Columbia (6.7), Massachusetts (5.52), and Nevada (5.46) have all exceeded the national average of 4.9 fraud reports per 10,000 people. Meanwhile, the likes of Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana, and Rhode Island have reported higher rates of identity theft, in particular.
As The Ascent notes, it’s hard to tell why certain states have reported higher rates of fraud than others. While certain scammers may be targeting specific geographic areas and populations, it could also be that residents in some states are more diligent about reporting fraud than others. Those in Maine, for instance, appear to be particularly savvy about avoiding scams; only 32% of Mainers who filed fraud reports indicated that they lost money through such schemes—the lowest percentage of any state, and well below the national average of 50%.
But with few signs that COVID-19 will be going away any time soon—and the possibility, however diminishing, of more stimulus help on the horizon—it appears unlikely that fraudsters looking to capitalize on the pandemic will stop targeting Americans, either.