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New FBI report shows meteoric rise in cybercrime

Consumers can protect themselves, but they have to pay attention to the little things

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Photo (c) Andreus - Getty Images
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (aka IC3) has just released its latest Internet Crime Report, and, in a word, it’s concerning.

Online crime mushroomed in 2020, with 791,790 complaints of suspected internet crime -- an increase of 300,000 complaints over 2019 with losses amounting to more than $4.2 billion. 

Phishing scams took home the prize for the most frequent crime, with 241,342 victims; it was followed by non-payment/non-delivery scams (108,869) and extortion (76,741). The FBI said that ransomware incidents also continue to rise, with 2,474 incidents reported in 2020.

When it comes to losing the most money, the title went to business email compromise scams, with $1.8 billion lost. Romance and confidence schemes contributed to $600 million in losses, and investment fraud led to $336 million swindled from consumers.

Coronavirus and unemployment insurance scams make waves

Pandemic-related scams flourished in 2020, with the FBI receiving over 28,500 complaints related to COVID-19. Scammers targeted businesses and individuals alike with schemes related to CARES Act stimulus funds, unemployment insurance, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and Small Business Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Most of the IC3 complaints that were linked to CARES Act fraud involved grant fraud, loan fraud, and phishing for Personally Identifiable Information (PII). 

Scams related to unemployment insurance were particularly troublesome for consumers to deal with. Officials said that citizens in several states ran into dishonestly submitted online unemployment insurance claims using their personal identities. 

Unfortunately, a number of the victims in this scheme had no clue they had been targeted until they attempted to file their own legitimate claim for unemployment insurance benefits. At that point, they got a notification from either their state unemployment insurance agency or employer to inform them that the benefits had already been collected.

Don’t take the bait

The FBI says no one is excluded from being a fraud target -- not Facebook, not churches, and not even grandma and grandpa. The agency encourages people to protect themselves by following these tips::

  • Be extremely careful with online communications. Verify the sender of an email. “Criminals will sometimes change just one letter in an email address to make it look like one you know. Also, be very wary of attachments or links. Hover your mouse over a link before clicking to see where it is sending you,” IC3 officials suggested.

  • If it’s too good to be true… You already know the axiom, but the agency can’t emphasize it enough: be on the lookout for anyone offering you something that is “too good to be true,” especially when it comes to an investment opportunity or medical advice.

  • Trust people you know are reliable. Trust sources like your personal doctor, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and your local health department for medical information, and use government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and Internal Revenue Service when you need financial and tax information. Taking the effort to contact them for confirmation about any notification you receive can save you a lot of headaches in the long run. They’re in the business of protecting consumers and can quickly verify whether something is real or not. 

IC3 itself is also a valuable resource. Through the Recovery Asset Team, the center successfully froze approximately $380 million of the $462 million in reported losses in 2020 -- an impressive success rate of nearly 82 percent. 

To file a complaint or contact IC3, you can visit its website here.

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