The coronavirus outbreak has opened new doors for bad actors and fraudsters attempting to profit off the health crisis. Scammers have shown no sign of fatigue over the past months, hitting consumers with a varied menu of tricks, ranging from impersonating government officials from the WHO and CDC, to fake work-from-home jobs and coronavirus cures. All industries have been preyed upon and no stone has been left unturned in their efforts to scam citizens.
Swindlers are having a field day
The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) latest report shows that 16,788 Coronavirus-related fraud complaints have been filed since January, causing a whopping loss of $12.78 million for U.S. citizens.
“FTC has received more than 16K Coronavirus-related reports from consumers. Consumers reported losing a total of $12.78M to fraud w/ a reported median loss of $570. Latest data now available (posted weekdays),” said officials in a tweet on April 13.
In an earlier press release, the agency revealed that 7,800 coronavirus-related fraud reports were filed between January 1 and March 31, inflicting a total loss of $4.77 million.
“The top categories of coronavirus-related fraud complaints include travel and vacation related reports about cancellations and refunds, reports about problems with online shopping, mobile texting scams, and government and business imposter scams,” said the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
This worrying trend has most likely not even reached it’s peak – more than half of the losses, or $7 million, were reported in the first 9 days of April.
The top industries or services exploited by fraudsters between January 1 and April 12 are travel and vacations (2,814 reports), online shopping (1,741 reports) and SMS-based scams. Four U.S. states make the top of the list, with 2,010 reports filed in California, 1,185 in Florida, 1,073 in New York and 1,064 in Texas.
How can you minimize your risks?
Now, more than ever, you and your family must stay vigilant. Cyber criminals and scammers will continue to adapt and deploy variations of existing scams that will continue to pose risks for unsuspecting customers.
Bad actors can contact you through email, text message, social media or phone. It’s crucial to understand that fraudsters are excellent social engineers and actors and, in times of crisis, they prey on fear and uncertainty. Treat every unsolicited email and SMS with suspicion.
No matter how good an online Covid-19 treatment, testing kit or vaccine sounds, do not succumb to your curiosity or anxiety. There is no standard treatment or vaccine yet and, if one should miraculously appear overnight, the local authorities will issue the necessary information. Don’t provide personal information or credit card numbers to people or ‘legitimate’ organizations that contact you online – your bank will not ask you to fill in your bank account or credit card number in an email, and the government will not ask you for money to send you a stimulus check.
You can also lend a hand in the fight against fraudsters by undertaking some detective work while you’re browsing the Internet. Should you accidently stumble upon bogus websites, messages or misinformation, you can alert the necessary or the relevant social media provider.
Last but not least, try to educate your family and friends. Statistics show that senior citizens are more susceptible to phone and phishing scams, so the next time you give your parents or grandparents a call, make sure to inform them about emerging scams and how they can protect themselves from becoming another fraud victim.
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