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COVID Scams Continue to Evolve

Americans have reported $138 million in losses due to COVID- and stimulus-related scams to the Federal Trade Commission. (Adobe Stock)
Americans have reported $138 million in losses due to COVID- and stimulus-related scams to the Federal Trade Commission. (Adobe Stock)
September 11, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Much like the virus itself, COVID-19 scams continue to spread six months into the pandemic.

Since Wednesday, more than 194,000 complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments have been submitted to the Federal Trade Commission, including roughly 1,200 fraud complaints and 400 identity-theft complaints from Missouri.

Chris Thetford, vice president for communications at the Better Business Bureau in St. Louis, said con artists have their finger on the pulse and always are adapting their schemes to match what's making headlines.

"What might have started back in March, with places claiming that they could sell you personal protective equipment or things that they claimed would help keep you from being infected with COVID, then morph into things like the contact-tracing scam and the government-impostor scam," he said.

Thetford shared some general rules to avoid becoming a victim: Never wire money to a person you don't know, and never give your Social Security number, bank account or any other personal information over the phone or through email.

A popular scam involves a person claiming to be from a government agency who says they need personal information to send a stimulus payment. Thetford said they're also hearing from Missourians who've been called by someone claiming to be a contact tracer who digs for personal information.

"If you get a legitimate contract-tracing call, they're going to ask you things about your activities over a certain period of time and things like that," he said, "but they're not going to ask you for personal identifying information, which could then be used to steal your identity and create a new credit profile."

Suspected cases of fraud can be reported to the Missouri Attorney General's office. Thetford added that complaints also can be reported to the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org/scamtracker.

"You can read about what others living right around you are encountering," he said, "and it gives you the option if somebody reaches out to you to try to make you a victim of a scam, you can report that, so that your neighbors can know that is going on as well."

In about half of fraud cases reported to the FTC, the victim lost money, with the median fraud loss in Missouri topping $258.

FTC data is online at tableau.com, and the Missouri Attorney General's Office is at ago.mo.gov.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MO