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Fraud related to the Covid pandemic has cost Americans $ 382 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
As of Tuesday, more than 217,000 people had filed a coronavirus-related fraud report with the agency since January 2020, according to federal data. The average loss was $ 330.
However, the losses were greater for the elderly: $ 500 for those in their 70s and $ 900 for those in their 80s.
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Criminals have used multiple avenues to steal money from unsuspecting Americans, including crimes related to financial relief such as stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, bogus Covid-19 treatments, and fraudulent charities.
“While people are scared about their health and finances, scammers are having a field day,” Lucy Baker, a consumer advocacy associate for the US PIRG advocacy group, told CNBC.
The Consumer Financial Protection Office received 542,300 pandemic-related complaints in 2020, a 54% increase over 2019.
Americans began filing more than 3,000 complaints mentioning coronavirus keywords almost every month starting in April 2020, according to the Bureau, a federal agency that monitors financial irregularities that affect consumers.
“The pandemic has been one of the most disturbing long-term events that we will see in our lives,” said Dave Uejio, acting director of the CFPB. “Not surprisingly, the shockwaves it sent across the planet were deeply felt in the consumer finance market.”
Credit and consumer reporting complaints accounted for more than 58% of total complaints, followed by those related to debt collection (15%), credit cards (7%), checking or savings accounts (6%) and mortgages (5%). Not all of these complaints were necessarily related to Covid.
Identity theft has also been a frequent problem in relation to unemployment benefits collected during the pandemic.
About 60,000 people reported identity theft to the FTC since last year. The US Department of Labor on Monday launched a website for Americans whose personal data was stolen and used to claim fraudulent unemployment benefits.
Americans are also falling victim to scams related to the launch of Covid vaccines.
An “early access vaccine” scam has been the most common cyber scam during the pandemic, according to Rublon, an online security company. Scammers send emails, text messages and phone calls claiming to have access to a vaccine from official government sources.
The FTC’s $ 382 million figure likely understates the scope of the fraud, as it is based on detailed incidents by consumers. Many may not have been reported.
“We must all be on guard,” Baker said. “Before clicking, first pause.
“Do your research and ask yourself if that website, email, text, direct message or call is legitimate,” he added. “Be careful about handing over your money or personal information.”