Losses from coronavirus-related fraud, identity theft and price gouging have almost hit $100 million since the pandemic began in March, according to a new report from a consumer protection group.
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Based on data published by the Federal Trade Commission, complaints of pandemic scams have at least doubled in most states as scammers have been able to get more creative and believable in how they prey on Americans already reeling from the virus-induced crisis and subsequent economic recession.
The study from Internet-based nonprofit group SocialCatfish.com found that California, Florida, New York and Texas, the five biggest states by population size, were the most targeted by coronavirus scams.
Across the country, there have been about 153,770 cases of fraud reported, the study found, with those five states accounting for almost one-fifth of total instances.
The cases have cost victims a total of $98.37 million, with a median loss of $273.
"Scammers realize the desperation of most Americans and pretend to reach out a hand to people with supplies they don’t really have, such as stimulus money or essential grocery items," the report said. "They then steal people’s money without giving them what they promised."
Several frequent forms of fraud involve fake calls about government stimulus checks, often with the scammer calling, texting or emailing an individual, pretending to be with the IRS and asking for personal and financial information so they can deposit the cash payment, according to the report.
Other types of scam that have flourished in recent months include price-gouging – one woman in California reported her local drug store was selling toilet paper for $15 – as well as pretending to sell products online they have no intention of ever shipping.