COVID-19 fraud has ripped off $3.8M from NJ residents, report finds
Scammers hit the jackpot when the COVID-19 health crisis hit the Garden State.
An analysis of Federal Trade Commission data finds New Jersey residents lost a total of $3.8 million to coronavirus-related fraud this year through August 31.
Residents in only six states were hit for a larger amount of money during the pandemic, according to a report from The Ascent, a Motley Fool service.
Phone calls were cited as the most common approach used by scammers. But scams launched in emails and websites resulted in the most money lost for consumers, the report says.
From bogus vaccination pitches, to stimulus payments stolen through identity theft, fraudsters learned to adapt their practices to prey on citizens' top concerns during the pandemic.
With these findings, consumer advocates want folks to be on high alert should another round of stimulus checks come our way, or when the eviction moratorium eventually expires and folks who've been hit hard financially by the pandemic need additional relief.
"When you are reaching out for information, make sure that you are reaching out to the right institutions and the right offices in government," said Beverly Brown Ruggia, financial justice advocate for New Jersey Citizen Action. "And when you're approached, you need to be extra cautious. If somebody is reaching out to you, you really need to know who you're talking to."
According to The Ascent's report, New Jersey residents saw a median fraud loss of $350. Median loss ranged from $114 in Mississippi to $693 in Vermont.
"The Division of Consumer Affairs has received several reports alleging COVID-19-related scams, including reports related to IRS phishing scams, job scams, COVID-19 stimulus check scams, phony offers of unemployment assistance, fake offers for Medicare/Medicare coverage, and unapproved at-home COVID-19 tests," said Lisa Coryell, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. "The Division reviews scam-related complaints for violations of New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act. Complaints that allege other violations are forwarded to the appropriate state and federal agencies."
Scammers did not discriminate by age, the report showed. The greatest number of scam reports came from the 30-39 age range, but those aged 50 to 59 experienced the largest dollar losses.
"I think conceptually we need to understand that when we get on to certain kinds of electronic devices, we're opening ourselves up to the world," Ruggia said. "Our law enforcement may not have the reach to help you and recover whatever you've lost."
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.