Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Axios on your phone

Get breaking news and scoops on the go with the Axios app.

Download for free.

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!
Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.

Driving the news: New data from the Federal Trade Commission — which oversees consumer fraud and deception cases — finds that in 2020, the FTC received more than 4.7 million reports around scams from consumers, up from 3.2 million in 2019.

  • The agency received more than 2.2 million reports about fraud specifically, totaling $3.3 billion in consumer losses.
  • An overwhelming number of scams target older people, the FTC data suggests, with 60 to 69 year olds reporting losses of more than $56 million to coronavirus frauds.
  • Most COVID-related fraud reports are attributed to online shopping scams, which is notable given the uptick in e-commerce during the pandemic.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has analyzed nearly 80,000 COVID-19 domain names in its pursuit of scams.
  • In a blog post, the agency notes it has made 227 arrests, served 222 criminal search warrants and opened 862 investigations related to COVID scams.
  • As of Feb. 10, Homeland Security agents have seized more than $33 million in illicit proceeds attributed to COVID-19 scams selling counterfeit N95 masks.

Breaking news events have long been an opportunity for scammers to act, in an effort to capitalize on existing confusion.

  • For example, the data shows that there was a massive increase in identify theft scams the day of and the day after the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
  • The FTC found that imposter scams — where the perpetrators disguise their identities, usually as government officials — were the most common type of scam last year.
  • "Government and business imposter scams were also among the top categories of COVID-19 and stimulus related reports, proving once again, that scammers follow the headlines," an agency official wrote in a blog post.

The big picture: While social media is often thought of as the murkiest part of the internet, most scammers aren't using social media to trick consumers, as the biggest platforms has gotten very good at weeding out bots and scam accounts.

  • Rather, the vast majority of scams, including COVID-19 scams, are occurring via phone calls, texts and emails.
  • The FTC found that there was a sharp increase in the number of text message scam reports last year. Many of the text messages were related to the pandemic, as well as other topics like stimulus relief or loans.

Facing a deluge of 365,000 reports and counting, the FTC has fired off more than 350 "warning letters" to companies related to potential coronavirus pandemic scams.

  • The letters are a way for the agency to quickly prod companies into taking down problematic claims, FTC attorney Christine DeLorme told Axios, adding that they have a high compliance rate.
  • "We think that is an incredibly good use of our resources to send a warning letter, if we can get those claims stopped in a matter of days," she said..

More broadly, federal agencies are trying to educate consumers.

  • The Federal Communications Commission on Friday held a webinar aimed at helping older people avoid vaccine-related robocall and robotext scams, while the FTC is holding a cyber scams event with AARP and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on March 4.

For people wondering how to avoid being scammed during this period of unprecedented uncertainty, the government offers a few tips:

  • Anyone calling from a number you do not know asking for information about your health insurance, Social Security number or financial information are likely scammers.
  • People soliciting payments to help you with things like health care or vaccine enrollments are likely scammers, as those are services the government offers for free.
  • Scammers will often pretend to be organizations you are familiar with. It's for this reason, as Axios has previously reported, that scam callers will often spoof D.C.-area codes pretending to be government bodies, like the IRS or HHS.

Go deeper

How the Delta variant ups the stakes in the war against COVID

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The dominant Delta variant's ability to efficiently infect people and rapidly grow inside a person is enabling the coronavirus to regain its footing in the United States.

Why it matters: "The solution is right in front of us — get everybody vaccinated and we wouldn't even be talking about this," NIAID director Anthony Fauci tells Axios.

Apple debuts plan to detect images of child sexual abuse

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Apple announced new iPhone features Thursday that it said would enable the detection and reporting of illegal images of child sexual abuse while preserving users' privacy.

Driving the news: One new system will use cryptographic hashes to identify illegal images that users are uploading to Apple's iCloud without Apple directly snooping in users' troves of photos, which can be encrypted.

California wildfire explodes in size, destroys historic town

Battalion Chief Sergio Mora looks on as the Dixie fire burns through downtown Greenville, Calif. on Aug. 4, 2021. Photo: Josh EdelsonAFP via Getty Images

The small Sierra town of Greenville, Calif., was heavily damaged on Wednesday night into early Thursday as the Dixie Fire surged northward amid high winds, extremely dry air and hot temperatures.

The big picture: The Dixie Fire, California's biggest blaze and the sixth-largest wildfire in state history, razed houses and businesses as it ripped through Greenville and surrounding areas in Plumas County.