- The FTC has received more than 15,000 coronavirus-related consumer complaints of fraud and scams in 2020, including 7,200 complaints in the first nine days of April.
- Scammers and grifters have increasingly been capitalising on the pandemic, tapping into people’s worries by promoting access to and raising the prices of in-demand health resources, including face masks and hand sanitizers.
- If the number of complaints and monetary losses reported to the FTC continue at the current rate, Americans could lose more than $US100 million to coronavirus scams by July.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Americans have lost nearly $US12 million this year to scammers and bad actors capitalising on the coronavirus pandemic, and the numbers show that figure could grow by tens of millions of dollars before the outbreak has been controlled.
The Federal Trade Commission recorded $US7 million in losses to coronavirus-related consumer fraud in the first nine days of April, compared with the $US4.8 million the agency disclosed for complaints between January 1 and March 31.
The FTC has fielded more than 15,000 complaints in 2020 from consumers who feel they have been taken advantage of during a time of fear and uncertainty. Nearly half of those complaints – 7,200 – were recorded in the first nine days of April. If the number of coronavirus-related complaints and monetary losses reported to the FTC continue to grow at the current rate, Americans could face more than $US100 million in losses to fraud and scams by July.
Scammers and grifters have increasingly been capitalising on the pandemic by price gouging in-demand products, including hand sanitizer and toilet paper rolls, across e-commerce sites. In March, Amazon removed 530,000 products listed on its site and suspended 2,500 US seller accounts.
The uptick in scammers exploiting the coronavirus has forced the FTC to issue stark warnings to consumers about trusting online sellers and buying products over the internet. The regulator has taken a harsh stance against businesses taking advantage of financial uncertainty and health fears, yet complaints of fraud and scams continue to flourish.
On YouTube, Facebook, and other social platforms, videos and advertisements touting overpriced face masks and bogus vaccines are easy to find, despite policies enacted banning such profiteering content. Other sellers have peddled home test kits and treatments – despite the fact that a vaccine for COVID-19 has yet to be officially approved.
The FTC has also warned against robocalls, phishing emails, and text messages trying to sell people on work-from-home schemes and health insurance, and convince consumers they’re reliable sources for legitimate information as people scramble for trustworthy updates.
The pandemic has also led to the spread of coronavirus misinformation, to the extent the World Health Organisation has declared a news “infodemic.”Although social platforms are making efforts to cut down on harmful content online, coronavirus misinformation is still spreading faster than tech companies are able to take it down.
Fact-checking organisations have been tasked with the responsibility of debunking conspiracies, hoaxes, and viral stories that could be a matter of life or death. Snopes, one of the internet’s oldest fact-checking sites, recently told Business Insider its web traffic has spiked, as its team debunked stories about vodka as a homemade replacement for hand sanitizer, stores issuing recalls for their toilet paper, and a cattle vaccine being effective in treating coronavirus patients, to name a few.
“These are rumours and grifts and scams that are causing real catastrophic consequences for people at risk,” Vinny Green, Snopes’ chief operating officer, told Business Insider. “It’s the deadliest information crisis we might ever possibly have.”