Survey: The Impact of COVID-19 on Fraud and Identity Theft

Survey: The Impact of COVID-19 on Fraud and Identity Theft article image.

As COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to impact the world, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the risk of scams, fraud and identity theft that could occur during this time.

With the rapid changes being made and new programs rolling out in response to COVID-19—including a tax due-date extension and new direct stimulus payments from the IRS—fraudsters have identified an opening and gotten to work. Americans have begun receiving calls, letters and emails from scammers posing as the IRS, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned of numerous scams related to COVID-19.

To better understand how we can continue helping consumers during this unprecedented time, Experian surveyed over 1,400 consumers throughout the U.S. to find out if they are concerned about fraud and theft and what they are doing to combat the threat. We found that most Americans are aware of scams related to COVID-19, and many are being more vigilant in protecting their private data. Read on for more insights.

Majority of Survey Respondents Are Aware of Fraud Related to COVID-19

While 16% of those surveyed reported receiving fraudulent emails or calls related to COVID-19, more than half of respondents (55%) said they have heard of a scam related to COVID-19. This heightened awareness illustrates the reality that scammers are taking advantage of our current crisis to exploit consumers.

Despite Fraud Concern, Online Shopping Is Up

Though those we surveyed were aware of new COVID-19 related fraud, 33% reported doing more online shopping now than they did before. And while a spike in online shopping is understandable—much of the country is under orders to stay at home—as you share more personal information online, you become more exposed to the possibility of fraud.

The risk of fraud while shopping online is something most consumers we spoke with have taken to heart. In fact, 52% of those we surveyed said they were somewhat, very or extremely worried their bank account information could be stolen while shopping online. Another 54% were at least somewhat concerned that their online shopping accounts (like Amazon) will be hacked, and 57% at least somewhat worried generally that shopping online could result in a loss of personal data such as a Social Security number.

At the other end of the spectrum, nearly one-third (30%) of respondents said they were actually shopping online less in light of the COVID-19 crisis. This reduction could be the result of several factors, including economic hardship or the desire to protect against the possibilities of fraud during this period.

One-Third of Respondents Have Taken Steps to Protect Their Data

Despite heightened awareness of COVID-19 scams, 55% of survey respondents say they felt either very or extremely confident in their ability to protect against any fraud attempts. Another 42% said they felt somewhat confident or a little confident in protecting themselves, and 3% said they were not confident at all.

In terms of how respondents were planning to protect against fraud threats in the coming months, 61% of those surveyed said it's either very or extremely likely they'll be extra vigilant when confirming the legitimacy of calls, emails and letters they receive. In addition, 44% said it's very likely or better they will monitor their credit reports regularly and 20% said it's very likely or better they will subscribe to a credit or identity theft monitoring service.

Tips for Helping You Protect Against COVID-19 Related Fraud

While fraudsters are trying their best to take advantage of this tough period, there are many ways you can protect yourself to help make sure you don't fall victim to fraud during challenging times.

  • Be extra vigilant when receiving emails, calls or letters. First, make sure to be extra vigilant of anyone asking for personal information in the coming months and avoid clicking on any suspicious links or attachments. Be careful when receiving emails, calls or letters that appear to be official notices, and always make sure to do research before engaging with anyone asking for your personal information.
  • Beware of IRS-related scams. The IRS explicitly says it will not call you demanding immediate payment, and any in-person visitors will present multiple forms of identification so you can verify they are truly with the IRS. In the coming months, look out for calls, emails and letters purporting to be from the IRS; if any personal information is requested, think twice before handing it over.
  • Be extra cautious of online shopping. If you're shopping online, always take steps to make sure you trust the website before you enter any personal information into a form. You can double-check domain names to make sure they are legitimate, and consider only entering personal data into sites you are already familiar with.
  • Check your credit reports often. Checking your credit reports often will help you notice if any fraudulent accounts are opened in your name. If you see anything listed in your reports that shouldn't be there, file a dispute with one or all of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and contact the creditor listed to close the account as soon as possible.
  • Consider enrolling in an identity theft protection service. Enrolling in an identity monitoring service can help protect you against the damaging impact of someone opening fraudulent accounts in your name. These services will help you detect fraud early on, and can help you kickstart the process of protecting your credit and finances from any theft.

If you want to stay on top of what's in your credit reports, you can get a free credit monitoring account from Experian so you can check your reports and scores every 30 days. If you're interested in identity theft protection, check out Experian's Identity Theft Protection service, and you can also get a free dark web scan to see if any of your private information is already exposed on the web.