Business Exchange


2020 Internet Crime Increased as Expected During Historic Pandemic

In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received a record number of complaints. While an increase in crime is not unusual during challenging times, complaints rose by 69% over 2019’s numbers to 791,790 resulting in $4.2 billion in losses.

Criminals took advantage of our reliance on technology using phishing, spoofing, extortion and other types of internet enabled fraud – targeting all of us. Some of the targeted (unique to the pandemic) include medical workers trying to procure personal protective equipment, families and businesses trying to obtain/track stimulus money and PPP loans and Banks who were processing many of these transactions. In 2020, the Internet Crime Complaint Center received over 28,500 complaints related to COVID-19.

One of the most common schemes during the pandemic was government impersonators. Scammers reaching out to individuals or businesses through social media, emails or phone calls, pretending to be government representatives to gain personal information or illicit money. And as the vaccinations became available, we saw and continue to see scams asking people to pay out of pocket to receive the vaccine, get on a waiting list or skip the wait entirely. Victims over 60 years of age remain a focus for both the FBI and the Department of Justice. This group is targeted by perpetrators because they are believed to have significant financial resources and may be less tech savvy and more trusting. This group may be targeted with Advance Fee Scams, Investment Fraud Schemes, Romance Scams, Tech Support Scams, Home Repair Scams, TV/Radio Scams, Grandparent Scams, Government Impersonation Scams and Family/Caregiver Scams.

The total number of cases and monetary loss increases with age.

Email Compromise
Both individuals and businesses saw an increase in email fraud:
• BEC – Business Email Compromise
• EAC – Email Account Compromise

These are sophisticated scams targeting businesses and individuals performing transfers of funds. Often, a subject compromises legitimate email accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques to conduct unauthorized transfers of funds. Over the years, these fraudulent efforts have become more complex. They include compromise of personal emails, spoofed lawyer email accounts, requests for W-2 information, targeting of the real estate sector and fraudulent requests for large amounts of gift cards.

– even if it’s a ‘family member’, known friend or business partner. Always confirm with the individual and/or organization requesting the funds or providing payment instructions.

2020 adjusted losses from Ransomware were reported at over $29 million by the FBI. Ransomware is a type of malicious software, or malware, that encrypts/locks data on a computer making it unusable. The criminals hold the data hostage – ‘for ransom’ until the ransom is paid. If it is not paid, the data may be permanently locked, destroyed or released to the public. Often, ransom payments are required to be paid in cryptocurrencies.

The software or malware may be deployed by simply clicking on a link in an email or through unauthorized remote access to systems. Cyber criminals may also take advantage of certain weaknesses in common software programs to gain control and deploy ransomware. It is highly discouraged by the FBI to pay ransomware. Doing so only encourages further abuse. It also does not guarantee that files will be unlocked/recovered.

We have seen both large and local organizations challenged with ransomware including everything from large healthcare systems to municipalities, schools and businesses. ALWAYS back up data/systems frequently. It is a best practice as protecting against system failures and unforeseen circumstances including ransomware. Cyber Insurance is now offered for businesses and continues to evolve with dynamic advances in technology. There are so many different scenarios, these policies must be reviewed carefully.

If you do become a victim of an internet scam, change your passwords immediately, delete questionable software, call your credit card company and contact your local police department. You can also contact the FBI, The Federal Trace Commission, The US Postal Inspection Service and your state’s Attorney General’s Office.

All data from Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internet Crime Complaint Center – Internet Crime Report 2020