LOS ANGELES, CA (CBS Newspath) – The Federal Trade Commission says over the course of the pandemic, it has tracked more than 400,000 scams related to COVID-19 which have defrauded consumers of nearly $400 million. But now FTC officials say their ability to fight scammers has been dealt a devastating blow.
Earlier this year, Janice Gach gave her contact info to the Health Department for a vaccine appointment. She got a call back, but when the caller asked her to spell her name, something didn’t seem right.
“I said you should have my name. I mean, you’re getting in touch with me about the vaccine,” said Gach.
Gach thought it might be a scam and hung up. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are trying to tackle an uptick in pandemic scams, including criminals contacting seniors offering fake vaccine appointments for money.
“An individual who had announced on Facebook that he had developed a COVID-19 vaccine and offered to vaccinate people at $400 each. In the course of the investigation, he admitted that he had injected 30 individuals with this product,” said Cynthia Alexander, Washington State Assistant Attorney General.
Other scams include stealing personal information while offering to help with funeral services, selling fake sanitizer and masks online, and pedaling fake COVID cures, treatments, and counterfeit vaccination cards. Consumer groups are warning the worst is yet to come due in large part to a recent Supreme Court decision that no longer allows the FTC to go after deceptive companies for monetary damages.
“This decision will dramatically curtail the ability of the FTC to effectively protect consumers,” said Daniel Kaufman, acting director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection for the FTC.
The FTC is asking congress to reinstate its ability to collect money for consumers. Until then, officials say they’ll work with law enforcement agencies to hold scammers accountable.