COVID-19-related scams cost Americans over $160 million
According to data analyzed by the Atlas VPN research team, Americans lost $160.75 million to COVID-19-related scams since the start of 2020. In total, US citizens reported over 118 thousand fraud cases, with 49.2% of those reports indicating a financial loss.
Median losses per individual victim reach $303 when looking at all types of scams. Moving further, we will analyze the most common scam types. The second part of the report uncovers the most used scam contact methods.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data reveals that most coronavirus-related losses are due to travel or vacation scams, amounting to $47.89 million in monetary damages. US citizens filed 25,916 such reports. Apparently, hotels and flight companies are delaying to issue refunds to customers, which is the main contributing factor to these reports.
Online shopping scams swindled $22.62 million from unsuspecting victims, according to the FTC. Cybercriminals are building scam websites to trick people into purchasing masks, disinfectants, and sometimes even vaccines.
Internet information services were the cause of $3.07 million in losses. In short, panicking consumers are in a hurry to find out more about the COVID-19 virus. Citizens are curious about the most used medicines, how to protect themselves, news on vaccines, etc. Cybercriminals use the growing panic to sell bogus products containing “secret cures”.
As stated on the FTC’s website, scam mobile text messages tricked nearly 5 thousand individuals, earning criminals upwards of $2 million. The US government agency does not provide detailed information regarding the text message subjects or the process of how these scams happened.
Finally, scammers were able to deceive over 4 thousand people by offering diets and products that were supposed to help in fighting off COVID-19. Such scams earned fraudsters $820 thousand to date.
Most scams carried out via websites
As many as 39.2% of reports indicated a contact method, which shines a light on how fraudsters reach victims.
Data reveals that most financial damages - $28.69 million, were lost to website scams. Over 12 thousand US consumers reported being a victim of fraud after trusting sites run by cybercriminals.
E-mail phishing scams are the second most financially damaging contact method, luring out $23.52 million YTD. According to the FTC, more than 10 thousand reports mentioned e-mail as the way scammers initiated contact with victims.
COVID-19-related phone calls and messages accounted for $21.55 million in losses. Phone scams are mentioned most often, with nearly 14 thousand reports since the start of the pandemic.
Interestingly, almost 8 thousand Americans initiated the first contact themselves, which resulted in $13.99 million losses.
Other, less common communication methods ripped-off $8.37 million from unsuspecting consumers, with 1.3 thousand reports, as stated on the FTC’s official website.
Finally, old-fashioned scammers still use mail to carry out their scams. Even though this method accounted for the least damages, it is still a significant sum of $1.88 million from 820 reports. These numbers show that a successful mail scam costs victims around $2293.
Tips to avoid coronavirus scams
Cybercriminals are seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to take advantage of panicking citizens. The Atlas VPN team wants to share three main tips to avoid the most common coronavirus-related scams:
Do not respond to texts, e-mails, or calls about checks from the government.
Americans should use the irs.gov/coronavirus website to provide information to the IRS or get the latest information regarding stimulus checks. The IRS will never contact you by e-mail, phone, or text regarding the stimulus payment. If someone contacts you and asks for your Social Security number or any other sensitive information, you can be sure that a fraudster is trying to steal it.
Do not buy vaccinations or home testing kits.
In the past 6 months, countless websites popped up, pretending to sell COVID-19 vaccines or brand new supplements that are not approved by the FDA. Our previous COVID-19-related fraud analysis found that cybercriminals created over 315 thousand coronavirus-themed websites, counting from March 9th, 2020 to March 23rd, 2020.
Do not open e-mails from untrusted sources.
These e-mails often contain malicious attachments or a link to a website. It did not take long for cybercriminals to create fake sites pretending to be the World Health Organisation (WHO) or other authoritative sources. Scam websites can install malware that can steal information from the unsuspecting victim’s computer.
Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.