simonlong | Moment | Getty Images
Consumer losses from Covid-related fraud have exceeded $ 500 million as criminals rip off the unwary in a variety of programs ranging from online shopping to travel, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The agency has received more than 558,000 complaints from consumers related to the pandemic since early 2020.
Approximately 60% of the complaints were linked to fraud, with a total loss of $ 501 million as of July 22nd. The typical person lost about $ 370, according to the agency.
More from Personal Finance:
More than half of adults have unused gift cards
For some, it may make sense to cancel the monthly child discount
What to Know Before Adding Cryptocurrency to Your Retirement Portfolio
“Scammers always take advantage of disasters, be it human or natural,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group.
Criminals have used several avenues to steal money from unsuspecting Americans, according to federal data, including online shopping, travel and government stimulus-related scams during the pandemic.
Covid consumer complaints
Meanwhile, price gouging was the most commonly reported pandemic-related problem in 2020, according to state and local consumer agencies polled for a consumer association report released Monday. Consumers complained of excessive prices for coveted products such as hand sanitiser, toilet paper and masks.
Authorities also received complaints related to Covid in a variety of other categories, such as evictions, canceled events and trips, schools and childcare, the report said.
The true level of consumer complaints and losses is likely much higher than it is in official statistics, as the data is reported by consumers themselves, Grant said.
“The complaints they are receiving are just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “I think it’s safe to say that there are a lot of people.”
Shopping online was responsible for the largest number of reported frauds to the FTC – more than 53,000 complaints, or approximately 16% of the total reported fraud.
Americans increased their online orders during the pandemic as they spent more time indoors. But many fell victim to “opportunistic websites” claiming to sell popular items – everything from hand sanitizer to gloves, electronics, clothing, and even puppies, according to the FTC. Customers order the item, but then never receive it.
The victims lost the largest amount of money ($ 77 million) to vacation and travel fraud, FTC officials say. Most of the fraud cases relate to refunds and cancellations, the agency said.
Travel has recovered with the rise in Covid vaccinations – and scammers have responded by creating fake booking pages for airline tickets or customer service numbers, according to the Better Business Bureau.