Scammers have bilked consumers out of $545 million in Covid-related fraud

Visoot Uthairam | Moment | Getty Images

Since early 2020, according to the FTC, scammers have cheated Americans out of $ 545 million in covid scams in a range of programs from online shopping to travel.

The agency received nearly 589,000 consumer complaints related to the pandemic from January 1, 2020 to August 30, 2021. About 61% of the reports concerned fraud; the median loss was $ 380.

“Scammers always take advantage of disasters, whether human or natural,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy for the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group, last month.

Customer complaints

Price gouging was the most widely reported pandemic-related problem in 2020, according to state and local consumer agencies polled for a recent report by the Consumer Federation of America. Consumers complained about 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.

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The true level of consumer complaints and losses is likely much higher than official statistics suggest, as the data is reported by consumers themselves.

Online shopping made up the largest number of fraud cases reported to the FTC, with nearly 55,000 complaints.

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.

According to FTC data, the victims lost the largest amount of money ($ 79 million) to vacation and travel fraud. Most of the fraud cases relate to refunds and cancellations, the agency said.

Travel has recovered in recent months as Covid vaccinations have risen – and scammers have responded with fake airline ticket booking sites or customer service numbers, according to the Better Business Bureau.

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