The second post in our Elder Fraud series takes a look at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, providing general information on the types of internet-based crimes facing everyone dealing in cyberspace, along with thoughts on self-protection and how to report suspected crimes.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) had a hectic 2020, fielding just under 800,000 complaints of suspected internet crime—crimes that fleeced a vulnerable public of over $4 billion that year alone. What’s particularly startling is that this level of fraud activity jumped 69% when compared to 2019 statistics, likely fueled by the debut of a totally new set of scam opportunities brought about by the chaotic circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dependency on technology in the wake of pandemic-mandated lockdowns undoubtedly fed the criminal element’s creativity, leading to innovative approaches to phishing, spoofing, extortion, and various types of Internet-enabled fraud as avenues to target an unsuspecting–and often uninformed–segment of our population. But, while 2020 saw a record increase in reported Internet-based crimes, the trend over the past five years has been equally alarming. Since 2016, reported crimes have jumped 165%, and the financial loss has grown almost three-fold in that same period, according to the IC3’s annual report.

The 2020 IC3 Internet Crime Report was issued March 17 and is a report worth reading for anyone concerned about this significant and growing threat. It’s available for download here…

Understanding Types of Fraud

The FBI’s IC3 reports that “ish homonym family” of scams continues to be the most prevalent form of attack, carrying labels like “phishing,” “vishing,” “smishing,” and “pharming.” A phishing perpetrator, for example, is defined as a crook in a digital communication masquerading as a source credible or reliable enough to have the victim engage in a transaction, with the result being the release of sensitive personal information. Vishing is simply phishing using voice communication technology (telephone), while smishing uses text or SMS messaging and pharming involves the installation of malicious code on your computer or server resulting in automatic redirects to fraudulent websites. There are many variations on these basic terms (like spearphishing, catphishing, and the like), but no matter how cute (or stupid) they sound, they can be poisonous to your financial wellbeing.

Non-payment/non-delivery scams are next in line in terms of the number of reported crimes, accounting for well over a hundred thousand in 2021, up from about 62,000 the year before. This type of crime occurs when a vendor or seller ships an item but never receives payment, or when the end customer sends a payment but never receives the paid-for item. Online auctions are frequently a source of this type of fraud, with about $265 million in losses racked up last year.

Extortion, personal data breach, and identity theft comprise the remaining top five complaint categories, logging a total of about 165,000 individual cases in 2020. In total, IC3 tracks complaint reports in 33 separate categories, with the remaining 25 averaging 10,000 cases each.

What Can You–or Should You–Do to Protect Yourself

There are precautions citizens can take to avoid having themselves counted in the preceding categories, and fortunately, they have a common-sense theme to them. USA.gov, the online guide to government information and services, outlines a few basic items:

Do

  • Learn how to spot internet fraud by knowing the warning signs of common fraud schemes. These schemes include phishing or spoofing, data breaches, and malware. (You’re off to a good start by reading this post!)
  • Know your buyer or seller. If you don’t know who you’re buying from or selling to online, do some research.
  • Update your anti-virus software and anti-spyware programs. Most types of anti-virus software can be set up to make automatic updates. Spyware protection is any program that protects your personal information online from malware. If your operating system does not offer free spyware protection, you can download it from the internet. Or, you can purchase it at your local computer store. But, be aware of ads on the internet offering downloadable spyware protection which could result in the theft of your information. You should only install programs from a trusted source.

Don’t

  • Don’t give out your personal information to anyone you don’t trust. Never provide it in response to an email, a pop-up, or a website you’ve linked to from an email or web page.
  • Don’t keep your computer running all the time. Doing so will make it more prone to spyware and other attacks from hackers and identity thieves.

Reporting Suspected Crimes

Anyone believing they have been the target of an internet crime is encouraged to submit a complaint to IC3. Reports submitted by third parties aware of the situation are likewise encouraged to caregivers and family members who know of a situation involving someone close to them.

Complaints can be submitted directly to IC3 via their website. Here, direct from the IC3 website, is a synopsis of the information that should accompany your complaint:

  • Victim’s name, address, telephone, and email (This will be your information if you are the victim, or another person if you are filing on behalf of a third party)
  • Financial transaction information (e.g., account information, transaction date and amount, who received the money)
  • Subject’s name, address, telephone, email, website, and IP address (The subject is the person/entity allegedly committing the Internet crime)
  • Specific details on how you were victimized
  • Email header(s)
  • Any other relevant information you believe is necessary to support your complaint

The FBI wants to hear from anyone experiencing an internet crime, either directly or indirectly. This quote from Paul Abbate, FBI Deputy Director, puts their interest in perspective: “We strongly encourage readers to submit complaints to IC3 and to reach out to their local FBI field office to report malicious cybercriminal activity. Together we will continue to build safety, security, and confidence into our digitally connected world.”