From online dating scams to merchandise fraud, Southern California officials say they see an increase in scams during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have seen particularly damaging fraud from unscrupulous individuals or businesses that wanted to exploit people,” a San Mateo District Attorney’s Office spokesman told The Epoch Times. “Consumers who would otherwise buy in person have turned to online sellers to purchase supplies.”
With the popularity of online shopping rising throughout the pandemic, scammers are using online platforms to deceive residents, lawyers said. Common scam refers to products or services that are exchanged through online communication, email or the telephone.
According to a Comparitech, California was the state with the most casualties and money lost last year report. Victims in the Golden State lost about $ 621 million in fraud last year, the report said. After California was New York with $ 416 million, Texas with $ 314 million, and Florida with $ 295 million.
As the most populous state, California was the 14th most severely hit state last year, based on the number of victims per 1,000 of the population. Delaware was the state that suffered the most.
Scammers have tried over the past year to lure Californians into a variety of scams, including for sham investments, loans, free gifts and promises of romance.
Family and friend scams also spread by artists posing as loved ones in distress, claiming they are in trouble and in dire need of money. General merchandise sales offered online also contributed to the top list of scams as more individuals went shopping behind a computer screen.
When the first round of pandemic shutdowns occurred in California, an elderly citizen in San Mateo County purchased a new laptop so he could communicate with his family.
However, it was quickly discovered that the website from which he had purchased the computer was illegal and that the senior had not received his laptop, law enforcement officials said.
COVID-19 vaccine fraud pulses are also emerging as doses become more accessible to Californians.
In March 2021, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a statement warning residents about scammers using the fear and confusion about COVID-19 to steal personal information and money from people.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has issued warning signs that could indicate a vaccine fraud, such as offers to buy and send a vaccine, and other secret sources to the vaccine.
It urged residents to take precautions and become familiar with scam tactics to prevent them from being victimized.
Other COVID-19 scams have included government economic stimulus and contact detectives to notify people if they have been exposed to the virus. In June 2020, then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned residents in a statement not to fall for these scams. Legal contact detectives do not ask for personal information such as a social security number, he said.
The state itself appears to have been victimized by the scammers during the pandemic due to fraudulent claims for unemployment in the California Employment Development Department (EDD).
“Between March 2020 and January 16, 2021, EDD processed 19.5 million claims and paid out $ 114 billion in unemployment benefits,” EDD said in a January statement. “EDD has confirmed that 9.7 percent of the amounts were made to fraudulent claims. EDD also identified that up to 17 per cent of payments made during this time were made to potentially fraudulent claims.
This means that of the $ 114 billion in benefits paid, more than $ 11 billion is fraudulent, and more than $ 30 billion may be fraudulent.
Due to the large-scale fraud, EDD has taken precautions on how to detect and prevent fraud.
“With the recently implemented anti-fraud tools and working closely without sister agencies and law enforcement partners, EDD is better able to stop fraud before it occurs,” an EDD spokesman told The Epoch Times. “EDD has halted payments for the higher risk claims and informed those affected that we will need to identify the verification.”
Despite efforts to reduce fraud, EDD faces challenges from scammers trying to mislead people into disclosing personal information.
In May, it warned residents about text alerts from scammers pretending to be from EDD or Bank of America. The messages try to persuade victims to share personal information through fraudulent links with account verifications.
The EDD advises residents to never click on the links in text messages and to make sure notice of EDD is by going through the website.
Although anyone can be a victim of fraud, the intended persons are often the elderly, or young people who still need to develop the life skills to identify a possible scam.
According to the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office, those 65 and older, and consumers 24 years and younger, are likely to be the victims.
In San Mateo County, the percentage of complaints from consumers 25 years and younger increased by about 30 percent. Complaints in old age increased by 16 percent year-on-year.
“For consumers 25 years and younger, the three most commonly reported fraud categories were e-commerce fraud, fake check fraud and romantic scam,” the San Mateos District Attorney’s Office said. “Those who are 65 years and older were the prize [or] scams, phishing [or] spoofing and internet commerce fraud.
Signs of a scam
By learning the signs of scams, it can prevent residents from falling for one.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), four signs of scam include fraudsters pretending to be from the government, or scammers insisting on an emergency, or claiming to have won a prize. Some arts create a false sense of urgency by threatening to arrest, sue or deport the victim. There are also crooks who have to pay in specific ways.
To prevent fraud, residents can take precautions such as blocking unwanted messages and calls.
The FTC recommends that people resist the signs of scams by not reacting quickly to decisions, not paying in insistent and specific ways, and trusting someone they trust about a possible scam.