April 07, 2021

Senator Hassan Pushes for Action to Combat Scammers Who Are Using the COVID-19 Pandemic to Defraud Granite Staters and Americans

Granite Staters Have Lost More Than $900,000 From COVID-Related Scams

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan is pushing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use the funding that Congress provided in the American Rescue Plan to help combat scammers who are using the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud Americans. The Federal Trade Commission has recorded 1,461 reports in New Hampshire of pandemic-related fraud, identity theft, and other scams with a cumulative loss to Granite Staters of $954,000. These reported scams sharply increase in mid-March 2020, with spikes in early January 2021 and March 15, 2021.

 

“These scams take many forms, including offering expedited access to economic stimulus payments for a fee, impersonating public health officials or health insurers or providers, and selling phony products and treatments claimed to prevent or cure COVID-19,” Senator Hassan wrote. “These illegal scams are a danger to the health and financial security of Americans.”  

 

The Senator continued, ”In the American Rescue Plan, Congress provided the FTC with an additional $30.4 million to operate the Consumer Sentinel Network, educate consumers, and increase the FTC workforce to address unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”

 

In her letter to the FTC, Senator Hassan notes that the agency has already taken a number of steps to combat scammers, and asks the FTC to provide further information on how it plans to address these COVID-related scams.

 

Senator Hassan is working across the aisle to target fraud, particularly amid the pandemic. Last year, Senator Hassan and a bipartisan group of her colleagues called on relevant government agencies, including the FTC, to aggressively crack down on scammers seeking to take advantage of Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Senator Hassan to crack down on robocalls became law. The legislation improves the federal government’s ability to find scammers, increases penalties on those caught, and requires call authentication and blocking technology to be made available free of charge to consumers. Additionally, the Senate last year passed bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Senator Hassan to help fight scams designed to rob seniors of their assets.

 

Senator Hassan’s letter can be read here or found below.

 

Dear Chairwoman Slaughter:

 

I write today requesting information about how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to use the funds in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (P.L. 117-2) to combat scammers who are attempting to use the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud Americans. These scams take many forms, including offering expedited access to economic stimulus payments for a fee, impersonating public health officials or health insurers or providers, and selling phony products and treatments claimed to prevent or cure COVID-19. These illegal scams are a danger to the health and financial security of Americans. 

 

In the American Rescue Plan Congress provided the FTC with an additional $30.4 million to operate the Consumer Sentinel Network, educate consumers, and increase the FTC workforce to address unfair or deceptive acts or practices.[1] Across the United States, of April 5, 2021, the FTC has received 425,534 reports of pandemic-related fraud, identity theft, and other scams, with estimated costs to Americans of more than $397 million. The Consumer Sentinel Network records 1,461 reports from New Hampshire during the same period of time, with a cumulative loss to Granite Staters of $954,000. These reported scams sharply increase in mid-March 2020, with spikes in early January 2021 and March 15, 2021.[2]

 

The FTC has taken a number of steps so far to combat unscrupulous marketers using the COVID-19 public health emergency to take advantage of Americans. Those have included enforcement actions like temporary restraining orders, permanent injunctions, and other equitable relief, as well as consumer education and outreach. To further understand the FTC’s actions to date, and potential upcoming actions, I request a response to the following questions by April 30, 2021:

 

  1. The FTC collects reports on scams using terms related to COVID-19 or direct individual stimulus payment check or debit cards. Please describe the nature of reported scams and any characteristics unique to either COVID-19 or individual direct stimulus payments, including how such scams may have evolved across each of the three rounds of individual direct stimulus payments disbursements (those authorized under section 2201 of P.L. 116-136, section 272 of P.L. 116-260, and section 9601 of P.L. 117-2).
  2. Please describe the types of COVID-19- and stimulus-specific reports received by the FTC over the course of the pandemic, including any new scams reported following the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260) and the American Rescue Plan.
  3. How is the FTC contemplating using funding from the American Rescue Plan to combat specific types of fraud related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments?

 

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[1] American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, P.L. 117-2, 117th Cong. § 7404 (2021)

[2] Federal Trade Commission, FTC COVID-19 and Stimulus Reports, (April 5, 2021) https://public.tableau.com/profile/federal.trade.commission#!/vizhome/COVID-19andStimulusReports/Map