15% Say They Have Been Targeted By Coronavirus Scammers

Suspicious messages alleged to be from government health organizations, healthcare providers
A frustrated man listening to a phone message

While consumers juggle concerns about health and finances throughout the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey suggests that they should be prepared to add scams to that list.

BeenVerified, a company that provides access to public records, recently surveyed consumers to see if they have been approached by scammers using the COVID-19 crisis to try to get money from them. Among respondents, 15% said they believed they had.

This aligns with the Federal Trade Commission’s announcement in March that it had seen a spike in fraud complaints related to the pandemic in which consumers reported losing a total of $4.77 million, with a median reported loss of $598. It’s not unusual for scammers to center their activities around a certain event — for example, consumers are warned each year to be aware of holiday-related scams — and the pandemic appears to be no exception.

Fraudsters posing as authority figures

When it comes to scams related to the coronavirus, alleged scammers are using multiple playbooks, the survey found.

Scammers often pose as an authority figure who consumers are likely to trust. Among respondents who believed they had been targeted, 29% said they had received suspicious messages claiming to be from government health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

That was followed by 15% who had received messages claiming to be from healthcare providers. The FTC has alerted consumers to be on the lookout for scammers who might be peddling a cure or treatment for COVID-19. Specifically, the FTC warns consumers to ignore unsolicited offers for vaccinations or test kits for the coronavirus.

Among other respondents who have received suspicious communications:

  • 11% were purportedly contacted by state or local government officials
  • 11% were contacted by someone claiming to be from an e-commerce site
  • 11% said they received a suspicious message from someone claiming to represent a financial or insurance company

Some alleged scammers may have even played on consumers’ fears about their own safety and sense of law and order, with 4% of suspicious messages claiming to be from law enforcement officials.

Also, 4% were from people who claimed to represent travel or airline companies. According to the FTC, misrepresentations related to travel cancellations and refunds were among the top coronavirus-related fraud complaints they had fielded. Scammers would have plenty of would-be travelers to target, as nearly half of consumers have canceled summer vacation plans because of COVID-19 concerns.

Scammers prefer digital communication

Respondents reported being targeted in a variety of different ways and through a number of different methods. The top method that alleged scammers are using is email, the survey suggests. More than half — 63% — of suspicious communications were transmitted that way.

Fraudsters have also reached out via:

  • Phone calls (13%)
  • Text messages (11%)
  • Social media messages (7%)
  • In-person approaches (2%)

Methodology: BeenVerified surveyed 2,320 consumers in 34 states from March 14 through April 27.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.