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A new study shows COVID-19 is leading to an unprecedented number of scams and Texas is the No. 4 most targeted state.

As of July 15, Texas residents filed 6,427 fraud complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. This marks a 122% increase since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March when 2,892 complaints were filed. This has resulted in $4.2 million in losses or $250 per victim in the state.

Athens Police Department Detective Cpl. James Bonnette, who works fraud cases said scams aren't going away locally and many are the same or similar to those he's been seeing for years.

"The scams are still going on, but I think people are waking up to that, especially those too good to be true deals," Bonnette said.

Nationally, the FTC has registered 144,727 reports of fraud costing victims $93 million, a median loss of $263 per person.

Online shopping ranks No. 1 for most complaints nationally, racking up 22,124 reports, and the government reported a barrage of activity around stimulus checks.

Bonnette said credit cards are still a common way for the criminals to make fraudulent purchases and get private information.

"Criminals will breach a data base and get a lot of people's identities at once," Bonnette said. "You don't see as much of people watching you and copying your user name and password. By breaching a data base you get a whole lot of information at once."

When APD gets a report of a compromised credit card it's hard to determine exactly where the breach came.

"There are still the cases of people leaving their credit card somewhere and someone else picking it up," Bonnette said.

Gas pump skimmers have been active in the state and numbers have been increasing. The criminals steal credit card information from people who pull up to the pump to get gas.

"What I've learned in training is Texas has been about the biggest target since Florida," Bonnette said.

Most of the pump skimmers were from Cuba and the easiest target was 90 miles away in Florida.

"They realize we weren't as geared toward stopping skimmers and now they are going from Cuba to Mexico and up into Texas," Bonnette said.

Athens has only had one incident where a skimmer was discovered in the city, but there have been several in East Texas and drivers should be alert.

"We've been quite lucky here," Bonnette said.

This past weekend a merchant contacted APD about a counterfeit $20 bill. Those show up in the city from time to time.

"It comes in surges," Bonnette said. "We'll see some for a while, then not. With the new security measures in the bills it's harder and harder to counterfeit."

The FTC website, www.ftc.gov, reports on several recent scams and has information about where to report one.

For local fraudulent activity you can contact APD at 903-675-5454.

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