Millions of Americans are either at home trying to figure out how to pay their mounting bills, or out looking for work while worried about exposure to a deadly virus. The troubling state of society is proving beneficial to one particular group: scammers.
“It makes sense that Americans are feeling that kind of economic and financial pressure, it is just really terrible that scammers are taking advantage of that,” said Lucy Baker.
Baker is with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a watchdog organization based in Washington D.C that has been tracking COVID-19-related scams since May.
In May, it found around 50,000 COVID-19 scams had been reported in the FTC’s database. When it went back to check the numbers last month, reported COVID-19 scams had jumped to over 200,000.
“Kind of what was more shocking and right in your face was the number, 140 million,” said Baker. "That is the amount of money that had been lost due to these COVID-19 frauds.”
Most of the scams are related to companies or individuals selling fake COVID-19 cures. Some are marketing PPE that is supposed to work better but does not.
In one case, people were receiving flyers in the mail that instructed them to go to a URL that was supposed to be for coronavirus relief but instead it was a ploy for a used car business to get potential customers. The car dealership even sent fake checks with the flyers, stating it was money from the CARES Act for a new vehicle.
According to U.S. PIRG, most people who’ve been scammed have lost around $300 on average. However, that number doubles to $600 for victims 80 years and older.
So, organizations like PIRG, the DOJ and even AARP have put out top tips to avoid falling for a COVID-19 scam.
“My biggest tip is to do your homework,” said Baker. "If you receive any kind of communication that seems off, smells fishy, it is too good to be true then it probably is.”
Baker’s second tip is to be vigilant.
"The more you are aware that something like this could happen to you, the more likely you are to be able to stop it,” she explained.
Lastly, most organizations recommend if you fall victim to a scam, report it. It is important to report it, regardless of how much money was lost or how embarrassed you may feel, because the more reported cases authorities get, the more information they have on the scams and scammers. Eventually, that will help officials find and stop the fraudulent activity.