Published in: Research | June 15, 2021
By: Lyle Daly
Originally published August 10, 2020. Updated June 15, 2021.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, scammers have taken full advantage. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans have filed nearly half a million COVID-19 fraud reports and lost over $450 million.
Not all parts of the country have been equally affected. Some states have much higher fraud rates and losses than others. The most common types of fraud also vary from state to state.
Keep reading to learn exactly what COVID-19 fraud is and to find out the latest numbers in every state.
Editor's note: the FTC statistics mentioned here cover COVID and stimulus fraud starting on January 1, 2020.
COVID-19 fraud is any type of scam, fraud, or identity theft related to the novel coronavirus.
Technically speaking, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) classifies a report as COVID-19 fraud or identity theft if a consumer mentions specific terms in said report, such as "COVID" or "stimulus."
Scammers have used a variety of tactics during the pandemic. Here are a few examples:
A specific category of healthcare fraud has increased dramatically during the pandemic: medical treatment and cures. Reports for this type of fraud exploded over the second half of 2020.
As of May 21, 2021, the FTC has recorded over 500,000 reports of COVID-19 and stimulus fraud. Total fraud losses are over $450 million.
Here are the total fraud losses and reports by state:
|State/territory||Total COVID-19 fraud losses||COVID-19 fraud reports|
|District of Columbia||$1,320,000||1,539|
As expected, there's a strong correlation between population sizes, fraud reports, and total fraud losses. States with larger populations tend to have more COVID-19 fraud reports and greater total losses.
There are some outliers. New York and California have similar numbers of fraud reports, even though California has almost twice as many people. And despite nearly the same number of fraud reports, California's total fraud losses are more than double New York's.
It might seem strange that two states can have nearly the same number of fraud reports but such a massive difference in total fraud losses. There are two reasons for this:
Now, let's look at those median losses and the loss rate per state.
The median COVID-19 fraud loss across the United States is $360. Here are the numbers for each state:
|State/territory||Median COVID-19 fraud loss|
|District of Columbia||$439|
Vermont may be the state with the lowest overall fraud losses, but when residents do lose money, they lose big.
On the other end of the scale, West Virginia ($145) and Mississippi ($150) both had very low median loss numbers.
Of the more than 500,000 COVID-19 fraud reports filed, 37.5% indicated a loss. The other 62.5% involved fraud cases where the victim didn't lose any money.
Here are the percentages for each individual state:
|State/territory||Percentage of fraud reports with a loss|
|District of Columbia||49.9%|
Once again, there's a massive difference between the areas at the top and bottom. Fraud victims in Puerto Rico were over 10 times as likely to lose money as those in Rhode Island.
This also helps explain why California has such high fraud losses. Along with the second-highest number of fraud reports, it also has one of the highest loss rates at 52.7%.
Some states had higher rates of identity theft as a percentage of overall COVID-19 fraud reports:
|State/territory||COVID-10 identity theft rate||Overall COVID-19 fraud reports||COVID-19 identity theft reports|
|District of Columbia||8.32%||1,539||128|
As a whole, the United States has had 15.6 COVID-19 fraud reports per 10,000 people. This varies quite a bit by state, and there are a few states with especially high or low rates.
|State/territory||Fraud reports per 10,000|
|District of Columbia||22.32|
|Age||COVID-19 fraud reports||Total COVID-19 fraud losses|
|19 and under||2,873||$3,900,000|
|20 to 29||14,230||$26,200,000|
|30 to 39||18,992||$53,600,000|
|40 to 49||17,463||$55,300,000|
|50 to 59||15,872||$66,600,000|
|60 to 69||14,665||$85,500,000|
|70 to 79||5,862||$23,600,000|
|80 and over||1,518||$6,700,000|
Consumers between the ages of 30 and 39 recorded the most COVID-19 fraud reports, but those in the 60-to-69 age range had the highest total losses.
Although the 80-and-over group had the lowest number of reports, they had the highest median loss at $1,000.
26.7% of the fraud reports received by the FTC included a contact method.
|Contact method||COVID-19 fraud reports||Total COVID-19 fraud losses|
|Website or apps||15,215||$42,300,000|
|Online ad or pop-up||1,020||$3,460,000|
Email was the most commonly reported contact method for COVID-19 fraud, but it's the mysterious "other" category that led to the most losses.
36.7% of the fraud reports received by the FTC included a payment method.
|Payment method||Fraud reports||Total fraud losses|
|Payment app or service||6,693||$11,590,000|
|Gift card or reload card||2,918||$8,300,000|
|Bank transfer or payment||1,970||$43,550,000|
Credit cards were the most common payment method used, which makes sense when you consider that they're one of the most convenient ways to pay.
Bank transfers and money wires resulted in the most losses, because consumers lost more on average with those two methods. It's harder to recover money transferred between bank accounts, and it's nearly impossible to get a refund on a wire transfer that has been picked up.
Now that you've seen the numbers on COVID-19 fraud, how can you avoid it? Here are several tips that can help:
You can stay up to date with the latest COVID-19 scams on the FTC's coronavirus advice page.
COVID-19 fraud isn't going anywhere. While there have been ups and downs in the number of fraud reports, March and April of this year had some of the highest totals yet. As long as COVID-19 is a part of our lives, scammers will use it to try and steal people's money.
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