In 2019, over 3.8 million Americans were victims of fraud and scams. Fast-forward to 2020 and the global pandemic and these figures have risen by over 25 percent with 4.77 million Americans being victims of fraud and scams in 2020 alone.
Of the figures that are reported, we also know that $5.1 billion was lost to these scams in 2019, before increasing by 37 percent to $7 billion in 2020. But with a large chunk of scams not having a $ figure attached to them, and scams being vastly underreported, these figures are likely much higher.
What’s also interesting is how the types of frauds and scams taking place changed from 2019 to 2020.
Our team of researchers explored data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and the Finance Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to find out just how the pandemic has altered fraud and scams across America.
- 2,523,800 Americans lost $5,142,248,313 to fraud and scams in 2019
- A further 1,282,531 Suspicious Activity Reports were filed to FinCEN for “cyber events” or “scams” in 2019 = 3,860,331 victims of fraud and scams in 2019
- 3,355,555 Americans lost $7,017,577,961 to fraud and scams in 2020
- A further 1,416,005 Suspicious Activity Reports were filed to FinCEN for “cyber events” or “scams” in 2020 = 4,771,560 victims of fraud and scams in 2019
- This is a 25 percent year-on-year increase in victims and a 36.5 percent year-on-year increase in $ amounts lost
- Identity theft, online shopping, healthcare, and employment/business-related scams saw some of the biggest increases from 2019 to 2020
Due to FinCEN not providing figures on the $ amounts lost to Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), these figures have been omitted from our overall totals when comparing dollar amounts lost. But they have been included in our victim counts.
However, in one report regarding SARs related to elder financial exploitation, it was stated that the average loss across all reports was $16,700. While only 80 percent of elder financial exploitation cases resulted in a loss, this still suggests an astronomical loss across these SARs. For example, if we base the losses on the aforementioned 80% of cases resulting in a loss of $16,700, that would put the loss to SARs at $17.1 billion in 2019 and $18.9 billion in 2020.
Read more about the true cost of elder financial abuse in our recent report (here).
Delaware was the most heavily-impacted state in 2019 and 2020
The state with the highest number of victims and dollar amounts lost for both years was California. In 2019, there were 456,601 victims of fraud and scams in California (including SARs) and a known total of $938,629,702 was lost. In 2020, there were 604,595 victims (including SARs) and a known total of $1,161,610,839 was lost. This is a 32 percent increase in the number of victims and a 24 percent increase in the known amount lost to these scams. But as California is the most heavily-populated state, this perhaps isn’t a surprise. In fact, based on the number of victims per 1,000 of the population, California ranks as the 16th most heavily-impacted state in 2019 and 14th in 2020.
The state with the highest number of victims per 1,000 of the population for both years was Delaware. In 2019, 53.96 per 1,000 people in the state fell victim to a fraud or scam. This increased to 58.41 per 1,000 in 2020. South Dakota was the second-highest in both years, too, with 26.69 per 1,000 affected in 2019 and 31.52 per 1,000 in 2020.
Arkansas saw the greatest increase in victims from 2019 to 2020
With a rise in victims from 22,321 in 2019 to 34,826 in 2020, Arkansas saw a 56 percent increase in its number of scam and fraud victims over the past two years. Puerto Rico, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island also saw increases of over 40 percent.
But none of these saw the highest rise in dollar amounts lost.
North Dakota saw a 509 percent increase in $ amounts lost to scams from 2019 to 2020
With a whopping 509 percent increase in the amount lost to scams from 2019 to 2020, North Dakotans lost $8.1 million in 2019 and $49.5 million in 2020. This is a huge increase and appears to be due to large rises in the amount lost to identity theft and personal data breaches (as reported to the IC3).
In 2019, 18 victims lost $3,607 to identity theft in North Dakota and a further 54 lost $24,890 to personal data breaches. In 2020, 84 victims lost $20.05 million to identity theft and a further 55 lost $20.14 million to personal data breaches. IC3 figures only.
Ironically, North Dakota was named as the state with the fewest data breaches over the past 15 years in our recent report. But due to the low number of victims and significant losses, the breaches/scams reported to the IC3 are likely to have been targeted toward specific individuals rather than entire organizations/entities.
Virginia was the only state to see a decrease in the number of scam victims from 2019 to 2020
In contrast to the above, Virginia was the only state to see a decrease in the number of victims it had from 2019 to 2020. Falling from 203,577 in 2019 to 194,755 in 2020, there were 4 percent fewer victims in the year of the pandemic. All of the other states saw an increase.
Nevertheless, a handful of states did see a fall in the dollar amounts lost to these scams. Wyoming (52 percent less), Ohio (22 percent less), New Hampshire (20 percent less), Iowa (19 percent less), Alaska (16 percent less), Arkansas (15 percent less), Montana (11 percent less), and Kentucky (3 percent less) all saw falls.
IC3 saw 36.5% increase in reports from 2019 to 2020
From 2019 to 2020, the IC3 saw a 36.51 percent increase in the number of victims it received reports from (from just over 422,000 to more than 576,000 in the 52 states we covered). The amounts lost to these crimes didn’t increase at such a rate, though, with the victim losses across these states rising by 15.5 percent from $3.93 billion to $4.54 billion from 2019 to 2020.
The categories with the biggest increases in victims were:
- Identity theft – a 174 percent increase in victims from 15,342 in 2019 to 42,022 victims in 2020
- Crimes against children – a 153 percent increase in victims from 1,119 in 2019 to 2,831 victims in 2020
- Investment – a 127 percent increase in victims from 2,358 in 2019 to 5,355 victims in 2020
- Health-care related – a 107 percent increase in victims from 620 in 2019 to 1,281 victims in 2020
It was health care related scams that saw an exponential rise in the dollar amounts lost, too. Increasing from $1.1 million in victim losses in 2019 to $24.84 million in victim losses in 2020, this is a 2,163 percent increase overall.
The IC3 describes health care related scams as those that attempt to defraud private or government health care providers, companies, or individuals, through things like fake insurance, stolen health information, and health insurance marketplace assistance. Schemes may involve medications, weight loss products, or supplements.
With organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) warning consumers about fake claims and phony websites that offer COVID-19 cures or stimulus payments, this vast rise in health care related scams is perhaps no surprise.
The states that saw the biggest increase in the number of healthcare scam victims and/or victim losses were:
- Georgia – 4 victims lost $250 in 2019, compared to 59 victims that lost $1.77 million in 2020. This is a 1,375 percent increase in the number of victims and a 706,402 percent increase in losses.
- Puerto Rico – 4 victims lost $420 in 2019, compared to 8 victims that lost $906,525 in 2020. This is a 100 percent increase in the number of victims and a 215,739 percent increase in losses.
- Illinois – 3 victims lost $2,367 in 2019, compared to 31 victims that lost $3.3 million in 2020. This is a 933 percent increase in the number of victims and a 139,864 percent increase in losses.
- Arizona – 5 victims lost $274 in 2019, compared to 23 victims that lost $286,188 in 2020. This is a 360 percent increase in the number of victims and a 104,348 percent increase in losses.
- New Jersey – 4 victims lost $147,662 in 2019, compared to 38 victims that lost $3.5 million in 2020. This is an 850 percent increase in the number of victims and a 2,278 percent increase in losses.
- Connecticut – 2 victims lost $3,500 in 2019, compared to 17 victims that lost $51,850 in 2020. This is a 750 percent increase in the number of victims and a 1,381 percent increase in losses.
New Mexico also saw a huge rise in losses but this was due to there being no cases here in 2019 and 14 cases with total victim losses of $17,045 in 2020. Louisiana, Maryland, and Mississippi also saw a 500 percent increase in victims from 2019 to 2020.
In 2019, New York had the highest number of victims for health care scams (207 losing $226,382) while Pennsylvania had the highest number in 2020 (213 losing $312,664). In 2019, California saw the biggest losses to these scams (38 victims lost $228,972) while Florida saw the biggest in 2020 (81 victims lost $3,956,724).
In contrast, a number of categories saw a decrease in the number of victims. These included:
- Advanced Fee – 9 percent decrease in victims from 12,727 in 2019 to 11,571 in 2020.
- BEC/EAC – 18 percent decrease in victims from 22,566 in 2019 to 18,421 in 2020.
- Government Impersonation – 6 percent decrease in victims from 12,941 in 2019 to 12,133 in 2020.
- Malware/Scareware/Virus – 42 percent decrease in victims from 2,239 in 2019 to 1,289 in 2020.
- Overpayment – 28 percent decrease in victims from 14,801 in 2019 to 10,640 in 2020.
- Re-shipping – 8 percent decrease in victims from 901 in 2019 to 827 in 2020.
FTC saw a 32% increase in reports and a 107% increase in losses
According to the states our study covers, the FTC saw a 32 percent increase in the number of reports it received in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2019, there were 2,066,781 reports of fraud to the FTC (including identity theft) compared to 2,734,163 in 2020. In 2019, these reports amounted to total losses of $1.18 billion in 2019, compared to $2.44 billion in 2020.
The areas which saw the biggest leaps in reports were:
- Identity Theft – Increasing from 595,376 in 2019 to 1,305,048 in 2020. An increase of 119 percent.
- Business and Job Opportunities – Increasing from 22,266 in 2019 to 47,818 in 2020. An increase of 115 percent.
- Online Shopping and Negative Reviews – Increasing from 133,991 in 2019 to 277,998 in 2020. An increase of 108 percent.
- Employment or Tax-Related Fraud – Increasing from 38,794 in 2019 to 102,118 in 2020. An increase of 163 percent.
- Government Documents or Benefits Fraud – Increasing from 20,881 in 2019 to 393,884 in 2020. An increase of 1,786 percent.
All of these increases may relate to more people being out of work, looking for financial opportunities, and/or being at home due to the pandemic.
Puerto Rico saw the biggest rise in fraud-related reports to the FTC with a 68 percent increase from 2019 to 2020 (from 2,244 to 3,762). Alaska had the second-highest increase with 49 percent (increasing from 2,840 in 2019 to 4,231 in 2020). These figures don’t include identity theft.
The states with the largest increases in identity theft were Kansas and Rhode Island with a 1,802 and 1,002 percent increase respectively.
In both 2019 and 2020, California has had the highest overall number of reports and total losses (including identity theft). In 2019, the FTC received 243,620 reports from California totaling $187.1 million in losses. In 2020, the number of reports increased by 31 percent to 318,698 and the total losses increased by 114 percent to $400.9 million.
BBB saw a 29% increase in the number of scams it received from 2019 to 2020
Increasing from 34,861 scams reported in 2019 to 45,102 scams reported in 2020, the BBB saw a 29 percent increase in the number of reports it received pre- and mid-pandemic. In fact, in 2020, the BBB even added a “COVID-19” category to its scam tracker, receiving 1,470 reports in this category in 2020 alone. In total, these scams resulted in losses of over $417,000.
Just like the IC3 and FTC, the BBB saw increases in online purchase scams, rising 102 percent from 8,571 in 2019 to 17,298 in 2020. New Jersey saw the biggest increase in reported scams (76%), rising from 718 in 2019 to 1,265 in 2020.
FinCEN saw a 10% increase in the number of Suspicious Activity Reports it received from 2019 to 2020
Rising from 1,282,531 to 1,416,005 from 2019 to 2020, FinCEN saw a 10.4 percent increase in the number of SARs it received over the last two years.
The highest increase in reports by far came from its business loan category where there was a 391 percent increase year on year. In 2019, 3,469 SARs relating to business loans were submitted. In 2020, this rose to 17,027. Again, this mirrors the trends witnessed by other entities, whereby scams that are potentially related to the pandemic have seen the biggest increases.
For example, the FTC recently published a warning to business owners on its website regarding a COVID-related scam. Phishing emails claiming to be from the Small Business Administration Office of Disaster Assistance are offering personal/business loans of up to $250,000. The would-be thieves then use the information they receive from these emails to apply for legitimate loans in the person’s/company’s name.
South Dakota saw the biggest rise in these business loan scams with an increase of over 4,700 percent (from 28 in 2019 to 1,366 in 2020). This was closely followed by Virginia (4000% rise from 27 in 2019 to 1,108 in 2020), Rhode Island (3,500% rise from 3 in 2019 to 109 in 2020), the District of Columbia (3,100% rise from 1 in 2019 to 32 in 2020), and Maine (a 2,700% rise from 3 in 2019 to 86 in 2020). North Carolina, Michigan, Georgia, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Indiana, Delaware, and Florida all had rises over 1,000 percent, too.
Elsewhere, the largest rise in SARs (overall) came from Oklahoma which saw a year-on-year increase of 53 percent. In 2019, 5,728 SARs were submitted in the state, followed by 8,768 in 2020.
Preying on vulnerabilities
Unfortunately, whenever there is the opportunity for thieves and scammers to con people out of money–they’ll take it. And the pandemic is no less different. With such a significant rise in the number of scams witnessed across America in 2020, many scammers have changed tact to focus on those who are desperate for financial help, cures for COVID, or are utilizing online services/shopping more frequently.
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Turn toward reliable sources for information before proceeding with anything: Before you make an online purchase, apply for a loan, use an online service, or open an email–check and double-check the links, websites, and organizations involved. Many scams involve incredibly similar URLs and names, often directing you toward legitimate-looking websites. Try to use official, trusted sources at all times. For example, if you’re applying for a business loan, always head to www.sba.gov in the first instance.
- Keep an eye on your credit report: By monitoring your credit report on a regular basis, you will be instantly aware if someone has tried to apply for a loan or credit in your name. This will enable you to act quickly. And if you’re not in need of a loan at present, you could opt to freeze your credit offers. This helps ensure that no one can take out a loan in your name.
- Don’t give out your details to anyone who cannot verify who they are: If someone contacts you for personal information, whether it be your social security number, date of birth, bank account number, or other such details, never give these out until you are 100% sure you are speaking to a legitimate person/company.
- Use tools like the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker: The BBB’s scam tracker will help you see the types of scams that are currently going on, how they’re targeting victims, and what to look out for. If you’re unsure about something–check here to see if it sounds similar to other scams in your area.
Methodology and sources
To find the total figures by state, we used the following data sources to obtain figures for all fifty states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In some cases, the total amounts reported by these entities are higher as they include other areas of the United States’s territory, i.e. the Virgin Islands. However, to provide a fair comparison and to remain in line with our other studies, these have been omitted from our values.
Totals created from “cyber event” and “fraud” categories.
Data researchers: Charlotte Bond, Rebecca Moody