Avoid Internet Crime Scams

Be Wary of Internet Crimes and Scams

By Todd Miller, Information Security Officer

The FBI and its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issues an annual report compiling information from victims. Information from the report can give you a better understanding of the techniques scammers use and how to reclaim a loss.

In 2019, there was a total victim loss of over $3.5 billion due to internet crimes and scams. There were a total of 278,525 victims, but this is only based on reported cases. The actual victim numbers could be drastically higher.

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There are a number of perpetual scam tactics that continue to lure victims year after year. To better protect yourself, please familiarize yourself with the most common schemes: 

Confidence Fraud/Romance: 19,473 victims lost a total of $475,014,032 in 2019
A perpetrator first deceives a victim into believing the perpetrator and the victim have a trusting family, friendly, or romantic relationship. As a result of that belief, the victim is persuaded to send money, personal and financial information, or items of value to the perpetrator. Sometimes the victim is persuaded to launder money on behalf of the perpetrator. Some variations of this scheme are dating scams or the grandparent scam.

Avoidance: Never give financial information to someone you have never met in person, no matter how long you have known them online. If you receive a distress call from a grandchild asking for money, make contact through a known family member to verify any need, regardless of pleas not to do so. If money is involved, it may not be a real family member on the receiving end.  

Spoofing: 25,789 victims lost a total of $300,478,433 in 2019
Spoofing scams use deliberately falsified contact information including a phone number, email, or website to mislead and appears to be from a legitimate source. For example: spoofed phone numbers making mass robo-calls, spoofed emails sending mass spam, or forged websites used to mislead and gather personal information. Spoofing is often used in connection with other crime types.

Avoidance: Be leery of anyone who might ask for financial information, even if the caller ID or email looks legitimate. Hang up and call the number you know. Don’t click links in emails from uncertain sources. Instead, Google the websites mentioned in emails. If something seems out of place, verify any unusual emails from the sender by using an alternate method of contact. 

Investment: 3,999 victims lost a total of $222,186,195 in 2019
Investment scams deceptively induce investors to make purchases on the basis of false information. These scams usually offer the victims large returns with minimal risk. Variations of this scam include retirement schemes, Ponzi schemes, and pyramid schemes.

Avoidance: If it is not someone you generally do business with, such as your broker, do your due diligence and research the information that you receive before making any investment decisions. Review potential investment opportunities with your CPA, broker, or financial institution. 

Real Estate/Rental: 11,677 victims lost a total of $221,365,911 in 2019
This type of fraud involves real estate, rental, or timeshare property.

Avoidance: Do not wire money to a title company just because they ask you to do so. Check with your financial institution, county treasurer, or mortgage company before sending such funds. 

Report statistics show the majority of victims in 2019 were over 60 years of age. A staggering 68,013 senior victims lost over $835 million. They’re commonly targeted because it is believed they have more liquid assets than younger citizens. They are also more likely to be targeted multiple times, especially if a scam was successful once. Further information about the Elder Justice Initiative is available here.

Don’t ever feel embarrassed if you have been victim to these scam tactics. These criminals are professionals. Remember, you are not alone and reporting a crime quickly is in your best interest. The more information you can supply in the timeliest manner can make a big difference in the probability of your recovery. If you are a victim, please fill out a form here, contact local police, and inform your financial institution.

For more information, you can read the full IC3 report here.