What the Federal Trade Commission is Doing to Combat COVID-19 Scams

By: Samantha Capriotti and Katie McAuliffe

Amid rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and a medical supplies shortage, another problem has been plaguing Americans during the pandemic – online and phone scams. Since January 1, 11,762 scams preying on the fear and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 have been reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.)  In response, the FTC has been working closely with other federal agencies to protect Americans, especially the most vulnerable.

The FTC has been encouraging people to report scams and has been using this information to track COVID-19 scams.  As of April 5, reported losses totaled $8.39 million and the median loss was $574. The most common and most expensive types have been related to travel and vacations.

Online retailers have been advertising products as preventative or healing, in relation to COVID-19. The FTC, in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration, sent letters to seven companies that were selling such products. The letter informed the companies that their products may be against federal law and if they have not addressed the agency’s concerns in 48 hours, they may be subject to a federal court injunction and required to refund their customers.

The FTC also sent letters to nine Voice over Internet Protocol service providers and similar providers, warning them that the FTC can file injunctions against them for providing pathways for foreign illegal telemarketing and robocalls. The calls offer free COVID-19 test kits, cleaning services, and other similar services. The providers were offered 48 hours to cease the illegal activity, or all of their traffic, legal or not, would be blocked.

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, addressed the issue, “…And to any other service provider that’s carrying or is thinking of carrying such traffic, be warned: If you do so, you too will find yourselves excluded from our phone system.”

With the pandemic predicted to peak soon, the last thing Americans need is fraudulent telemarketers and internet scams preying on their fear. The FTC encourages anyone who believed they have been targeted by such scams to file a report here.

Photo credit: Jim Griffin (Flickr)