COVID-19 Scams Have Cost Americans $146 Million, FTC Says

An illustration of hand reaching out of a computer grabbing money and a credit card

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, scammers have tried to take advantage of vulnerable people under unfortunate circumstances. Some scammers posed as contact tracers and stole personal information. Others stole stimulus checks. Thanks to new data from the Federal Trade Commission, we can see the impact these scams have had.

The role of the FTC is to promote consumer protection, and one way the agency does this is by fielding consumer complaints. Ultimately, the FTC received more than 200,000 COVID-19-related complaints and found that Americans collectively lost $146.47 million due to fraudulent scams.

How COVID-19 Scams Have Impacted Us 

All the data that the FTC has collected on coronavirus scams are neatly compiled on the agency’s website. There, you can sort by state, consumer age, and type of scam. In addition to the overall data we mentioned above, some of the statistics are staggering.

From the more than 200,000 total complaints filed, roughly half alleged fraud. Another 30,000 said that they had their identity stolen as a result of a coronavirus scam.

The average American that fell victim to a scam lost about $300. Although older Americans were actually less likely to get defrauded than younger people, seniors lost far more money in an average scam. For instance, 5,600 claims were filed by 20-29-year-olds who were robbed of, on average, $234. On the other hand, only 707 people older than 80 filed a claim, but they reported average losses of $660.

Online shopping scams, typically the most common in the U.S., remained the most commonly flagged during the pandemic. Travel scams cost Americans significantly more money, however. Scammers posed as airline agents, sold phony travel insurance, or posted fake discounted hotel/flight listings. The 30,000 shopping scams reportedly took in about $21 million, while the 24,500 travel scams accounted for nearly $45 million.

Phone scams were the most popular, although many were initiated through email and websites as well. And although the internet was used to initiate a majority of frauds, the most expensive cases typically ended with a wire transfer. Only about 2,400 consumers said they were duped into sending a wire, and collectively lost $33 million. Comparatively, 15,000 people said their credit card or bank info was stolen, and that group accounted for just $24 million in losses.

You can comb through all of the FTC’s data on COVID-19 scams for yourself here if you’re interested!

What to Do If You’ve Been Scammed

Fraud reports peaked in May, and have slowly declined since. Hopefully, as they became more prevalent amid the pandemic, more Americans caught on to the misdeeds of scammers. Still, hundreds of COVID-related complaints are filed daily, and millions are stolen every week. All that is to say that if you fall victim to a scam, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed and you’re not alone!

If you think you’ve spotted a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. If you’ve been scammed yourself, file complaints with the same two organizations.

Both portals will ask for some personal information and details about the scam. The FBI handles general internet crimes, but it can’t hurt to file a claim both ways. If you gave away any financial information, like credit card numbers, you should contact your bank and freeze those accounts too.