SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – So many scams have cropped up related to COVID-19 that it’s now being called a “scamdemic.”
A new study by The Ascent, a Motley Fool service, revealed that nearly 500,000 complaints have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and that up to $480 million has been lost by consumers.
“We’ve seen scammers and fraudsters just take advantage of a lot of the changes that have occurred to our everyday lives as a result of the pandemic, and it’s all to try to take hard-earned money from folks at this desperate time,” said Jack Caporal, a research analyst at The Ascent.
The report said Georgia consumers have lost nearly $12 million due to COVID-19 fraud since the start of the pandemic, and that the average loss is about $400.
Caporal says first, it was online scams about COVID remedies or vaccines, then, online shopping scams, because so many people were at home. And now, because so many people are desperate for a getaway, the scams have turned to travel.
“You have people posing as someone from an airline, hotel, rental car company, etc., messaging you, calling you, and saying that your reservation has been modified or canceled,” Caporal explained. “And in order to basically unlock or change your reservation, you need to pay a really high fee.”
He says always contact your travel agent or airline company directly and don’t trust a call or text — especially when it’s out of the blue.
Caporal says everyone needs to be even more vigilant about providing personal information, including medical information.
“It’s so easy to contact people whether it’s through text message, emails, even on social media, where there are just millions of eyeballs going through thousands of posts every day,” he said.
“Be really wary of unsolicited contact, which includes emails, text messages, anything through an app, and phone calls. We’ve seen a really big spike in those methods of contact during the pandemic,” he said.
Some things you can do include signing up for consumer alerts from the FTC and to report a scam.
“Sometimes, it may feel like those reports don’t amount really to anything. You just kind of file a report online and it’s unclear what happens. But it is really important because it helps guide enforcement,” said Caporal. “It also creates a collection of data that then allows the agencies to paint a picture and tell folks what to be on the lookout for to prevent more losses.”
Caporal also advises that if you think you need to make a payment, use a credit card because it offers more assurances against fraud.
He says just be careful because the scammers are not going away online, on your phone or through your email — and they’ve made millions.
“I’m always shocked by these numbers; they’re just so extraordinarily high. And you know, I think for scammers, this is just a business, so you expect them to try and make as much money as they can,” said Caporal. “But to see them take advantage of such tragic, human crisis is always, always shocking.