Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States has received over 175 000 consumer reports related to COVID-19 scams, totalling a mammoth $118.81-million (R1.986-billion) in losses.

The top fraud reports relate to: online shopping; travel and vacations; credit cards; banks, savings, loans and credit card unions; and healthcare.

“Online shopping was the number-one fraud complaint, according to the latest report. However, COVID-19 complaints related to fraud, identity theft, Do Not Call, and other consumer protection problems were also noted as a troubling trend,” says Simon Campbell-Young of Cyber Security South Africa.

According to the FTC, these are scams that trick people into ordering products like masks, hand sanitiser, and other high-demand items that never arrive. People are also reporting scam text messages related to bogus offers to earn income, phony economic relief programmes, fake charities, and government imposters.

“Although the median loss fell by almost 50% between April and August, the number of submitted complaints has increased sharply, suggesting scammers are becoming more successful. It’s critical to stay ahead of scammers and pay attention to red flags pointing to fraud. It’s advisable to do some homework before ordering products online, paying attention to the company’s website and their products,” says Campbell-Young.

“Do not provide personal or financial information via phone, email and text messages, even if the person who contacts you claims to be a government or financial institution. If you suspect you have been scammed, inform local authorities and contact your bank to dispute the charges. Brush up on spotting online shopping scams, and invest in a software that will help to ward off threats and protect your personal data from cybercriminals,” he adds.

“It’s critical to take a proactive approach to cyber security and to protect yourself or your business. Just as you would protect your physical assets and your family/employees with perimeter walls, an alarm system and security gates and burglar bars, it’s equally important to ensure that your cyber presence is protected. By deploying an affordable solution like Bitdefender, you are effectively putting barriers and checks in place to prevent theft of critical personal data,” Campbell-Young adds.