With the U.S. in the grips of an unprecedented economic crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government grows increasingly concerned over scammers targeting desperate people.
Experts at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have noted the spread of dangerous schemes that disguise themselves as legitimate ways to earn extra income. These schemes include business coaching scams, job scams, business offers and pyramid schemes.
Even more alarming is the potential for scammers to now include COVID-19 vaccinations as a way to lure Americans into handing over cash and personal information.
A new FTC data analysis has shown that in recent years, business and work-at-home opportunities and job scams involving fake checks are the most frequent reported income scams, but reported losses are highest in investment schemes. Alleged damages reported in FTC tracked cases amount to more than $1 billion.
If someone offers you a job and they claim that you can make a lot of money in a short period of time and with little work, that’s a scam — FTC
In job scams, scammers will advertise jobs the way actual business do, in regular social media and ad platforms. These can be work-from-home opportunities that are especially relevant and convenient during the current pandemic, with requests for personal information in order to get started. The job could be anything from reshipping products to selling things to familiar people.
But instead of making money, victims end up paying for starter kits, “training” or certifications that are useless. They might also find that their credit card is charged without their permission, or they get caught up in a fake check scam.
“If someone offers you a job and they claim that you can make a lot of money in a short period of time and with little work, that’s a scam,” the FTC’s website says.
Investment schemes lure people with promises of teaching how to make a lot of money quickly, with ease and with low-risks attached. These usually employ people’s interest in the real estate and financial markets. They will often offer free seminars and later charge hefty fees for their “proven” investment tricks.
Alleged damages reported in FTC tracked cases amount to over $1 billion
Kati Daffan, Assistant Director in the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices, spoke of the bureau’s investigation under a program called “Operation Income Illusion”.
“With record unemployment and ongoing financial impact of the pandemic, more and more people are looking for ways to make ends meet,” Daffan said. “Scammers, unfortunately, are taking advantage of that and pitching scams with false premisses of money and security that people need so much.”
FTC urges people in every community to be alert and vigilant and report such scams when they notice something fishy about a job opportunity presented to them.
FTC data also shows that income schemes, where losses amounted over $500, tend to be directed at communities where the median age is 55 or above. Majority Black areas are often the target of income scams that seek less than $500.
“We don’t know if that’s because particular groups are being target more by a scam or why this is that case, but we think it’s important to look at the data we have to understand as deeply as we can how income scams are affecting different communities,” Daffan said.
Consumer are urged to report such schemes at www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts