A new study has revealed that coronavirus scammers have broken past the $100 million mark, and the surge in online shopping during the pandemic has led to the unprecedented rise.

“State of Coronavirus Scams in America,” released by this week by SocialCatfish.com, states that more than 24,403 online shopping scams have been reported nationally and 2,554 have been reported in California. This makes online shopping the No. 1 most reported type of Coronavirus related scam — nationally and in the state — as fraudsters continue stealing money people desperately need to weather the economic downturn.

The study is based upon data compiled by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Among its findings:

· Nationally: The FTC has registered 160,450 reports of fraud costing victims $405.70 million;

· In California: The FTC has registered 14,220 reports were filed costing victims $15.63 million;

· The most common type of scams nationally: online shopping (24,403 fraud complaints), followed by travel/vacations (18,667), credit cards (5,577), banks/credit unions (4,230), and mobile text messages (3,608);

· The most common type of scams in California: online shopping (2,554 fraud complaints), followed by travel/vacations (1,963), credit cards (739), lending/mortgage (541), and credit bureaus (497).

There are four common online shopping scams to avoid during Coronavirus:

1)  The Price Gouging Scam:  Some retailers are marking up essential items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer at abhorrent levels. This is particularly egregious with record unemployment as people simply cannot afford to pay $30 for toilet paper. Price gouging law varies by state but on average it is illegal to mark a product up 10% or more during a declared emergency. Amazon has had to remove half a million items for sale on its website due to price gouging and has suspended 6,000 accounts.

How to Avoid: If you suspect you are a victim of price gouging, report it to the Department of Justice. Currently, the market is stocked back up at normal prices for essential items and it is a good idea to plan ahead for a second or third wave.

2) The Undelivered Goods Scam: There are thousands of websites offering essential products including masks and gloves that simply take your payment and financial information, never send you the product and have your information for future scams. 

How to Avoid: Purchase products from big companies that you trust. If it is a smaller company, do research by googling them to see reviews and if any complaints have been filed.

3) Shipping Time-Limit: Because of this scam, sellers are obliged by law to either give you an estimated shipping date or to ship your products out to you within 30 days. There is an exception for customers who opened a credit card account in order to purchase a product, which gives sellers a 50-day window to ship your product. If there is a delay in the expected shipping date, the company you purchased the product from must notify you.

4) Free Groceries Scam: Scammers text their victims telling them that they just won free groceries from Costco at a $130 value. All the customers need to do is give scammers their personal information, and they will supposedly get free Costco groceries at their doorstep.

How to Avoid: There are currently no national grocery chain offering free groceries.  Do not give your personal information.

If you encounter a coronavirus scam, contact local law enforcement or file a complaint with the FTC.

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