COVID-19 Fraud Statistics: Over $480 Million in Losses and Counting
Originally published August 10, 2020. Updated July 14, 2021.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, scammers have taken full advantage. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans have filed over half a million COVID-19 fraud reports and lost over $480 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.
- As of July 14, 2021, Americans have reported over 500,000 cases of COVID-19 fraud and losses of over $480 million.
- California has the most COVID-19 fraud losses with over $65 million.
- Consumers in Vermont have the lowest total COVID-19 fraud losses ($381,000) but the highest median fraud loss ($577).
- COVID-19 identity theft has been more prevalent in certain states, including Kansas, Hawaii, Montana, and Arkansas.
- Rhode Island has a much higher than average rate of COVID-19 fraud (96 reports per 10,000 people) than other states.
- Although consumers ages 30–39 reported the most cases of fraud, those 60–69 lost the most money.
- Credit cards are the most common payment method for COVID-19 fraud victims who lose money, but far more money is lost via bank transfers and money wires.
What is COVID-19 fraud?
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:
- Websites selling at-home COVID-19 vaccinations
- Stimulus payments stolen through identity theft
- Vaccination surveys promising a free reward if you provide your payment information for a small shipping and handling fee
- Offers for phony at-home COVID-19 testing kits (these were common when tests were in short supply, but there are now legitimate at-home tests available)
- Robocalls offering scam services, such as inexpensive health insurance or work-from-home jobs
- Sales of personal protective equipment (PPE) with delivery dates the seller knows they can't meet
The rise of medical treatment scams
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.
COVID-19 fraud by state
As of July 14, 2021, the FTC has recorded over 540,000 reports of COVID-19 and stimulus fraud. Total fraud losses are over $480 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||$1,330,000||1,645|
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:
- Median fraud losses were much higher in certain states.
- Not every fraud report includes a loss. Some states had much higher loss rates than others.
Now, let's look at those median losses and the loss rate per state.
Median COVID-19 fraud loss by state
The median COVID-19 fraud loss across the United States is $366. Here are the numbers for each state:
|State/territory||Median COVID-19 fraud loss|
|District of Columbia||$438|
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 and Mississippi both had very low median loss numbers of $150.
COVID-19 fraud loss rate by state
Of the more than 540,000 COVID-19 fraud reports filed, 35.8% indicated a loss. The other 64.2% 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||45.5%|
Once again, there's a massive difference between the areas at the top and bottom. Fraud victims in several states 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 51.4%.
COVID-19 identity theft by state
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||7.96%||1,645||131|
Fraud reports by population
As a whole, the United States has had 16.4 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||23.86|
COVID-19 fraud by age
|Age||COVID-19 fraud reports||Total COVID-19 fraud losses|
|19 and under||2,970||$4,200,000|
|20 to 29||14,753||$27,500,000|
|30 to 39||19,623||$55,100,000|
|40 to 49||18,105||$57,500,000|
|50 to 59||16,557||$70,300,000|
|60 to 69||15,320||$89,300,000|
|70 to 79||6,174||$25,100,000|
|80 and over||1,578||$6,800,000|
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.
COVID-19 fraud by contact method
26.2% 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||15,656||$44,530,000|
|Online ad or pop-up||1,092||$3,520,000|
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.
COVID-19 fraud by payment method
37.1% of the fraud reports received by the FTC included a payment method.
|Payment method||Fraud reports||Total fraud losses|
|Payment app or service||6,818||$11,820,000.00|
|Gift card or reload card||3,030||$8,890,000.00|
|Bank transfer or payment||2,067||$44,480,000.00|
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.
How to protect yourself from COVID-19 fraud
Now that you've seen the numbers on COVID-19 fraud, how can you avoid it? Here are several tips that can help:
- Don't purchase a COVID-19 vaccine, as this is a popular scam. You can only get vaccinated at federal- and state-approved locations.
- Watch out for COVID-19 vaccine surveys. These claim to offer a free reward if you pay a small shipping and handling fee. If you do, then the scammer has your payment information and can make fraudulent charges.
- If you get any robocalls (calls that start with pre-recorded messages), hang up. Criminals use calls like this to obtain your information and potentially steal your money.
- For a stolen stimulus payment, or if you suspect your stimulus was stolen, file a report at IdentityTheft.gov. Your report will be sent to both the IRS and the FTC. You can also call the IRS, although there may be long wait times.
- Avoid sending money unless you're absolutely certain you're dealing with a reputable business. Don't wire money, because this type of transaction is typically impossible to reverse after the money is picked up, making it a favorite of scammers.
You can stay up to date with the latest COVID-19 scams on the FTC's coronavirus advice page.
Fraud numbers are dropping
The good news about COVID-19 fraud is that we may be on the downswing. While March and April of this year had some of the highest fraud report totals, that was followed by a sharp decline. As life gradually gets back to normal, COVID-19 will likely lose popularity with scammers.
- Federal Trade Commission (2021). "COVID-19 and Stimulus Reports."
- Federal Trade Commission (2021). "The Big View: All Sentinel Reports."
- United States Census Bureau (2021). "The 2020 Census: Our Growing Nation."
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