As the world grapples with Covid-19, scammers are taking the opportunity to dupe unsuspecting people into revealing their sensitive information and stealing their money.
In a report (PDF) on Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said it has now received 14,227 reports of Covid-19-related scams. More than 8,000 of those complaints focus on fraud and nearly 1,100 are Do Not Call violations. Nearly 800 cases seek to steal a person's identity. All the others fit into a catch-all "other" category that includes mortgage scams, credit card scams, and other threats.
On average, those who have been defrauded have lost $564, according to the report. A total of $10 million has been lost in the U.S. alone.
It's the latest in a seemingly never-ending line of sobering revelations about coronavirus. And it suggests scammers are trying to target people during a moment of crisis to pad their own wallets.
It's unclear from the report who those scammers are most often targeting, but a report from The Wall Street Journal this week said those who have lost connections to people through social distancing may be most at risk. Those people may not have robust social connections with friends and family and may be vulnerable to calls from fraudsters.
So, what exactly are the fraudsters doing?
According to the FTC, the biggest proportion of scams center on travel and vacation fraud attempts. These have netted fraudsters $3.7 million. Online shopping scams, offering people opportunities to get good deals on products they'll never actually receive, has helped fraudsters make $1.4 million. In an even more concerning revelation, the FTC found scammers are posing as businesses and government entities offering money or other opportunities in return for cash.
What can people and companies actually do to prevent themselves and their employees from falling prey to coronavirus scammers?
For one, you need to limit your exposure to fraud by not trusting e-mails from unknown senders or believing the government is contacting you about coronavirus. It's also important not to share any personally identifiable information with anyone at any time. If you want to contact a business or government agency, initiate the contact yourself and verify the number you're calling is legitimate.
More than anything, don't trust anyone offering you something too good to be true. Chances are, it's not legitimate.