WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Senate Banking and Finance Committees, joined a group of colleagues in introducing new legislation to address the growing threat of COVID-19-related scams seeking to fleece American consumers. The Stopping COVID Scams Act of 2020 would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general to better hold bad actors accountable for defrauding consumers during the current public health emergency. Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.-03) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, Americans are increasingly working, socializing, and learning online. In addition, millions of Americans are facing financial struggles. As a result, Americans have been made more vulnerable to unsafe and counterfeit products and medical and financial scams perpetrated online or over the phone. Since January of this year, the FTC has received more than 130,000 consumer complaints related to the COVID-19 crisis. In total, consumers report losing nearly $90 million from COVID-19 related fraud at a time when they can least afford it. In April, Google reported that it was tracking 18 million COVID-19 malware and phishing emails each day.

“Taking advantage of fellow consumers during a pandemic is outrageous and morally wrong,” said Sen. Menendez “Sadly some see this as an opportunity to scam the most vulnerable, but we need to do more to look out for each other during this challenging time. Cracking down on these scammers must be a top priority. This common sense legislation will provide the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general with the tools and authority they need to hold these scammers accountable and better protect the American people.”

The bill is also cosponsored by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The House bill is cosponsored by Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.-09) and a group of colleagues.

The Stopping COVID Scams Act of 2020 allows the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state Attorneys General to impose civil penalties on COVID-19 scammers. The legislation would apply to the following deceptive acts and practices:

  • Those involving goods and services advertised as related to the pandemic;
  • Those involving goods and services that experienced an increase in consumer demand one month before the emergency and until the emergency ends;
  • Those related to the federal or state response to COVID-19, including testing and treatment, unemployment benefits, and economic impact payments.

The legislation is supported by the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumers League, Public Citizen, and Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“Scams linked to COVID-19 are harming consumers' financial and physical health on a daily basis. Agencies tasked with protecting consumers from this fraud should not have to operate with one hand tied behind their backs,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “That is why we are proud to support Congressman Lujan's common-sense bill, which will allow the Federal Trade Commission to use all the tools in its arsenal, including civil penalties, to fight back against the scammers.”

“Crooks are taking advantage of fear and confusion about the COVID-19 pandemic to trick people into giving them their money, their personal information, or both. It’s a no-brainer – Congress should enact the Stopping COVID Scams Act of 2020 immediately to strengthen the ability of federal and state consumer protection agencies to combat this fraud,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy for the Consumer Federation of America.

“It is critical that the state attorneys general have the tools they need to combat COVID scams and protect consumers in the pandemic. Senator Udall’s important legislation would put new tools in the state AG’s toolbox to battle fraud, and we hope it receives the wide and broad support in Congress it deserves,” said Laura MacCleery, Policy Director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The text of the bill can be downloaded here.