Nearly $12 million stolen in coronavirus-related scams, FTC reports

The global coronavirus pandemic has caused not only worldwide health problems and economic issues, but has also lead to an uptick in unscrupulous scammers taking advantage of the situation to steal money and personal information.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that it has received more than 15,000 complaints about coronavirus-related scams, with a total of almost $12 million lost due to fraud. Each person lost an average of over $500, the FTC reports. The most common frauds were related to travel or vacations, with online shopping coming in second.

Karen Hobbs, assistant director of the Division of Consumer and Business Education at the FTC, denounced the scammers this week.

“Scammers have no shame, and nothing — not even a global health crisis — is off limits,” she wrote. “They’re pitching fake coronavirus vaccines, unproven cures, and bogus at-home testing kits.”

The agency has a page on its website about avoiding such scams, including advice to ignore texts, emails, or calls regarding coronavirus testing that claim to be from the government, as well as online offers for vaccinations against the virus or home testing kits.

The agency is also taking action against sellers who are claiming that their products treat or prevent coronavirus, including teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) advises that “there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.”

The FTC has also warned that scams regarding stimulus checks being issued in the U.S. by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are also surging. People who qualify for these payments will receive them via direct deposit in the next few weeks, but scammers are calling people up and pretending to be government officials, or issuing official-looking fake checks, in order to steal money or personal information from the unsuspecting public.

“It’s not surprising that scammers are exploiting confusion about economic impact payments too,” Hobbs noted. “But it’s still shameful.”

If you are concerned about a coronavirus message you’ve received and you want to make sure you aren’t the victim of a scam, check out our guide to how to avoid being the victim of a coronavirus scam.

For the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak, visit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 page.

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