From social media accounts looking to get your information to fake phone calls looking to clean out your bank account and even emails trying to get your money in exchange for fake vaccines, officials say the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of scams of all forms targeting everyone, and New Yorkers have already lost millions.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that New Yorkers have filed over 20,000 fraud complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments costing residents $23.7 million. Last month, the FTC reported that nationally it received more than 2.1 million fraud reports from consumers in 2020 with consumers reporting a loss of more than $3.3 billion to fraud.
So, how are people being scammed? The FTC says online shopping, internet services, prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries and telephone and mobile services were the top fraud categories. Paying for fake offers, goods and services at prices too good to be true are being blamed.
One example of a common scam is companies marketing unsubstantiated COVID remedies. One New York-based company selling “botanicals and medicinal foods” that purported to “reduce [the] risk of worsening symptoms, or…ward off the virus entirely” is being investigated
In another scam, the New York State Division of Consumer Protection reports that text messages offering “pandemic stimulus relief” in exchange for providing personal financial information on official-looking, but fraudulent, websites impersonating government agencies were sent out.
“This has been a year of vulnerability for all New Yorkers,” said Brooklyn State Sen. Zellnor Myrie. “However, some bad actors have chosen to exploit this vulnerability to seek ill-gotten profit from individuals or from the government. COVID-19 has already wrought untold economic devastation to New Yorkers, especially upon those who had the least to begin with. On top of everything else, no one should have to contend with additional financial losses due to fraud in this incredibly challenging moment.”
Myrie recently introduced his COVID-19 Fraud Accountability Act. The legislation would increase civil financial penalties for white-collar crime committed in connection with COVID-19.
Attorney General Letitia James says her office has also received thousands of complaints about scams. Some of the most common ones she’s received include internet-related scams and COVID-19 price gouging.
“The havoc unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the numerous other ways consumers were defrauded in 2020, sadly resulted in my office receiving a record number of consumer fraud complaints in 2020,” she said. “Consumers who have helped identify and report issues to our office have been invaluable partners in our efforts to stop deceptive scams and will continue to be vital partners going forward.”
James’ office advises people to not give out Social Security numbers, personal credit card numbers, or bank account information to calls offering COVID-19 vaccines. New Yorkers should contact the state attorney general’s offices if they are charged an administration fee for a COVID vaccine. No one can pay to put their name on a list to get the vaccine or to get into a vaccine clinical trial.
The FTC is also warning people about current scams including modeling scams aimed at taking a victim’s money upfront in exchange for agency representation or test shoots. Another is an email scam stating that the FTC chair is offering coronavirus relief money. The scam is an attempt to get victims’ personal information.
One of the most common scams the FTC says continues to be an issue are romance scams. Newly released data shows that the amount consumers reported losing to romance scammers is up about 50% since 2019.
Romance scammers draw people in using pictures stolen from the internet. Victims are enticed on dating apps/websites and on social media. The scammer builds false personas that seem just real enough to be true, but always having a reason never to meet in person. The fake suitor will ask for money from the victim. The median loss reported to the FTC is around $2,500.