SocialCatfish.com, the identity verification nonprofit, reported U.S. losses from COVID-19 fraud and ID theft have reached nearly $100 million since the pandemic emerged in March, according to Reuters.
A report by the California-based agency, whose mission is to prevent consumers from being defrauded online by learning the identity of individuals or organizations, revealed the number complaints about coronavirus scams has doubled in most states.
The survey, based on government data, put a spotlight on the depth of what it called a fast-growing criminal enterprise that includes everything from phony stimulus check offers to shopping scams and fake COVID-19 cures that prey on distressed Americans.
The five most targeted states by the scams include the ones with the biggest populations: California, Florida, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania.
These states accounted for one third of more than 150,000 instances of COVID-related fraud reported nationally by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) since mid-March. Those cases have cost victims a total of $97.5 million to date, according to the FTC.
But the scams are not limited to the giant states. Even small states saw huge increases in COVID-related fraud in recent months. Maine led the pack, where monthly complaints of coronavirus scams and identity theft quadrupled from March through July, the study said.
Richard Neil, a spokesman for the report’s authors, told the news service that scams taking advantage of Americans’ desperation in the midst of a deadly pandemic and accompanying economic upheaval are running rampant.
The most common forms of fraud involve faux promises of government stimulus checks via robocalls, texts, or emails where thieves seek personal and financial information the caller supposedly needs to deposit benefits into the victim’s account, according to the report.
Last month the FTC testified before Congress, detailing its efforts to combat coronavirus-related fraud, including sending warning letters and trying to educate customers on how to spot a scam.
Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Andrew Smith outlined the FTC’s process of monitoring complaints from consumers and the overall marketplace, looking out for things like fake cures for the virus and robocalls and emails about other dubious claims.
The FTC said it has sent more than 250 letters warning merchants to stop making false claims that their products will cure, prevent or treat the coronavirus.