U.S. News

U.S. regulator receives over 5,000 complaints of coronavirus scams

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said it has received 5,149 complaints related to coronavirus schemes in the first three months of the year, with claims of $3.46 million in fraud losses.

Of the complaints, 423 came from people aged 60 and older, FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan said.

Fear of the disease, for example, has led to people buying unproven cures. The FTC and the Food and Drug Administration wrote warning letters to seven companies in early March, including to televangelist Jim Bakker and “The Jim Bakker Show.”

Bakker had cited antiviral claims for Silver Sol Liquid, Silver Sol Gel, and Silver Lozenges in a video about the coronavirus, the FTC said then.

The FTC said that the median losses cited in the complaints were $580 because of some large outliers.

The coronavirus, which causes the sometimes devastating respiratory illness COVID-19, has killed more than 1,200 Americans.

FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips urged consumers to be wary. “We are also worried about cons that we typically see where people try to impersonate the government. The government doesn’t ask for your Social Security number,” he said.

Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Jerry Moran, a Republican, and 32 colleagues wrote to the FTC on Thursday to urge tougher action on coronavirus-related scams, especially those aimed at senior citizens.

Seniors, who are most likely to suffer dire effects of COVID-19, were being targeted with scams that offer vaccinations, when none exist, or having them pay for a useless test, the senators said.

“We are concerned that further action is needed to protect the financial well being of seniors — who lose an estimated $3 billion annually from financial scams,” the lawmakers said.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Leslie Adler