Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the top complaint categories are online shopping, travel, credit cards, banks and lenders, and credit bureaus.
U.S. PIRG Education Fund, a consumer advocacy organization, is documenting the actions taken by the FTC and 14 other federal agencies in response to coronavirus scams.
Those actions include the FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sending more than 420 warning letters, the Securities and Exchange Commission suspending stock trading for 37 companies, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency shutting down thousands of malicious web domains and email addresses.
“While people are scared about their health and finances, con artists are having a field day," said Lucy Baker, consumer program associate for U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
The peak of daily scam complaints, May 27, was in the middle of a lull in new infections. Case numbers started to rise again in late June and early July.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, news outlets, government agencies (such as the FDA, with its Quack Hack campaign), and organizations including ours and AARP have warned the public and/or published guides on how to avoid scams related to COVID-19 and in general,” Baker said.
That could have made Americans more wary of a variety of common cons such as suspicious phone calls or promises of “fast stimulus money,” which only leads them to a used car salesman, she said.
“The government should wield every tool at its disposal against scammers,” Baker said.
Department of Justice press releases have described both criminal and civil legal actions brought against parties accused of fraud related to covid-19 products and services. This includes health care benefits fraud, fake disease treatments, and the sale of nonexistent medical supplies.
Baker said we all need to be on our guard.
“Before you click, pause first,” she said. “Do your research and ask yourself if that website, email, text, direct message or call is legit. Be wary of handing over your money or personal information.”