According to the FBI, the reported incidents of internet fraud in the United States in 2019 jumped by nearly one-third to more than 467,000 cases, while the total dollar value swindled from unsuspecting internet consumers exceeded $3.5 billion.
The 2019 numbers are the highest in the 20 years the FBI has been tracking cybercrimes.
For a sense of scale, the 467,361 complaints reported in 2019 is equal to the population of Long Beach, California, while the $3.5 billion in stolen money is a just tick higher than the $3.49 billion budget for the city of Boston.The total number of crimes and dollar amount has increased 30% from 2018.
Donna Gregory, complaint center chief of the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center said in a prepared statement that they did not see an increase in any new types of fraud over the internet. Instead, the perpetrators are using familiar tactics and refining them for new, unsuspecting audiences.
“Criminals are getting so sophisticated. It’s getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and to tell the real from fake,” she said.
The most frequent complaints involve phishing ploys, where the scammer will send an email pretending to be someone else in an attempt to receive passwords or other confidential information. There are also incidents involving spoofing or mimicking the account of a legitimate vendor or business in order to snare personal information from an unsuspecting target.
“You may get a text message that appears to be your bank asking you to verify information on your account,” said Gregory. “Or you may even search a service online and inadvertently end up on a fraudulent site that gathers your bank or credit card information.”
Gregory recommends that people be very skeptical and double-check everything.
“Verify requests in person or by phone, double-check web and email addresses, and don’t follow the links provided in any messages.”
Massachusetts ranks 18th nationwide with 6,492 reported victims, but 10th overall in dollar amounts with some $84,173 million.
Nationwide, the states with the most number of reported complaints – California, Florida, Texas and New York – are also states with the highest populations.
California alone accounted for $573 million in stolen funds, or more than twice for number two Florida’s $293 million.
In addition to individuals being victimized, there are numerous cases where scammers will target businesses or even a municipal agency to gain access to computer systems. Once the scammers gain access they will either steal customer information or install ransomware, a software the blocks out rightful users until the company pays a ransom.
A significant problem involves people being duped while making online purchases through auction sites. These can take the form of the buyer sending money but never receiving the merchandise, or the seller shipping the merchandise and not receiving payment.
Nearly 15 percent of all complaints involved victims who are age 60 or older. The report tallies the number of complaints at 68,013 last year and sets the amount stolen at $835 million.
The report notes that scammers often target older people “because they are perceived to have significant financial resources.”
The 68,000 complaints filed by people aged 60 and older is around 24,000 more complaints than the next age grouping of ages 30 to 40.