American Have Lost $145 Million to Coronavirus Fraud

The Four Percent

The number of reports of fraud has declined since the spring, the data shows.

There is often an increase in fraudulent activity after disease outbreaks and natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes. Suspected fraud or fraudulent activity can be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud.

Charity Navigator and GuideStar, which rate nonprofits based on their effectiveness and financial condition, can also help consumers evaluate whether a solicitation of a charitable donation is legitimate.

Many scammers posed as sources of coronavirus stimulus relief or even marketed a cure or preventive treatment for Covid-19. They were crafty, experts said, sending out robocalls, text messages and emails to consumers.

“Scammers are always going to go for your last dollar, no matter what,” Ms. Baker said.

During a pandemic or natural disaster, consumers will move into “flight-or-fight mode,” said Stacey Wood, a psychology professor at Scripps College in California who studies consumer fraud. Increased stress can cause people to make more impulsive decisions, she said, rather than stopping to think about whether they should avoid clicking a link in a phishing email.

As a disaster persists, scammers will adopt new tactics and approaches, Professor Wood said.

The coronavirus has driven fraudulent behavior to levels she said she had never seen before. The duration of the pandemic and everything that comes with it — financial worries, loneliness and isolation, even depression — have created psychological vulnerabilities that may not be as widespread even in the aftermath of disasters like hurricanes or wildfires, she said.

“Disruption and fast-moving events create good conditions to target consumers,” Professor Wood said.

To avoid fraud, AARP has recommended that consumers avoid sites promising coronavirus-related vaccines or cures. They should also be wary of emails, calls or social media posts advertising coronavirus tests, or claiming to be raising money for victims or research, and those that ask them to share personal information.

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