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Pandemic Scams Con Millions From Americans, Including Many Oregonians

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A finance industry analyst says COVID-19 fraud has cost Americans more than $124 million this year, which includes over $2 million gleaned from Oregonians.

In a review of Federal Trade Commission data, researchers with The Ascent – a service of the financial advising company, The Motley Fool -  learned more than 184,000 cases of fraud have been reported so far in the U.S.

Nathan Hamilton is a co-founder of the The Ascent. He says scammers are always looking for an opportunity, and the 2020 pandemic is no exception.  Travel and vacation scams caused the highest losses due to fraud, coming to $40 million total.

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Credit cards were the most common transaction for pandemic scams, according to The Ascent's report. The most money lost per transaction was done via wire transfer, however.

“There are certain travel scammers who will reach out and say they can guarantee refund of say, your flight or hotel that may have gotten canceled and you weren’t able to get a refund from the travel provider,” Hamilton told KLCC. 

“And they’ll ask for your credit card to be able to process that transaction and ‘help you out.’ That is an obvious scam, you’ll always want to work directly with your credit card issuer or the travel provider itself. Don’t go through a third party.”   

Hamilton adds that the problem of COVID-19 scams is likely underreported.

“There’s a website where you can report this to government agencies and so forth, but it’s very hard to find online,” he explained. “So without any sort of guidance or having come across this information, it’s just difficult to find.  And then sometimes people just may not want to report it or may not take the time to report it, or don’t know that they should report any sort of fraud losses.”

Hamilton says to avoid third-parties for banking or business transactions. And to be leery of advertised miracle cures or vaccinations for COVID-19.

Oregon ranked 20th for fraud reports per population, and 32nd for identity theft.

The Ascent's report on COVID-19 fraud can be found here.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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