Internet Scams In PA See Uptick Amid Pandemic

PENNSYLVANIA — Falling victim to an internet scam is affecting more people in Pennsylvania every year, with the coronavirus pandemic apparently exacerbating the problem nationwide.

In Pennsylvania, 163,023 people fell victim to reported online scams in 2020, a 28.6 percent increase from the 128,503 reported in 2019. That’s according to Comparitech, a technology research company that analyzed data from the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, Finance Crimes Enforcement Network and Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Pennsylvania is part of a national trend that saw an increase in Americans who reported online scams, from 3.8 million to 4.77 million from 2019 to 2020 — a 25 percent increase, according to Comparitech. Approximately, 12.73 victims per 1,000 people in Pennsylvania were reported in 2020, up from 10.04 in 2019, Comparitech found.

Scam victims in Pennsylvania were out $202.9 million in 2020, compared with $171 million in 2019, according to Comparitech. The lost dollars in Pennsylvania are part of the $5.1 billion lost nationally in 2019 and $7 billion in 2020.

“Scammers are good at what they do, or else they wouldn’t be scammers,” Nichole Thomas, a BBB spokeswoman who works out of the Northern Indiana office in Fort Wayne, Indiana, told Patch. “When they find something that works, they really hone in on that.”

What had worked for years — scamming older Americans — shifted a bit as the pandemic brought more non-retired people home for the day, Thomas noted. Children were among the groups with the biggest increase in internet scams amid the pandemic, a 153 percent uptick from 1,119 to 2,831 nationally, according to Comparitech.

“Students had unfettered access to the internet, with no teachers watching over their shoulder,” Thomas said. “Kids are mostly less scam-educated because they are so young, and more likely to think they won’t be scammed because they grew up in the digital age. But now, scammers are growing up in the digital age, too.”

Related On Patch: How To Spot An Internet Scam

Older adults, traditionally the age target for scammers, are still targeted, but “not in a way that increases their susceptibility,” Thomas said, because retired people were often home with access to a computer before the pandemic.

Identity theft, online shopping, health care and employment or business-related scams were the fraud types that jumped the most from 2019 to 2020 nationally, Comparitech found.

The pandemic didn’t change the state where people reported scams the most frequently. Delaware had the most scams reported per 1,000 people in 2019 and 2020, increasing from 53.96 to 58.41. Virginia was the only state that actually saw a decrease in the number of scams reported, and money lost, from 2019 to 2020.

Scam numbers only convey a portion of the people getting ripped off online, reporting agencies including the BBB have long said. In cases in which a high dollar number is involved, victims are especially reluctant to report the crime, Thomas said.

“They are embarrassed,” she said, estimating that the BBB only receives reports from about 10 percent of scam victims. “People can become very dicey when they lose money.”

The more that people report scams, Thomas said, the better chance that others will have of avoiding those scams.

“It is never a victim’s fault that they were scammed,” she said. “It’s always the scammer’s fault.”

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