Americans reported a record number of internet crimes in 2020, as crooks took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to exploit even more victims.
Crime victims filed some 791,000 complaints with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) last year. That was a 69% increase from 2019 and represented more than $4.1 billion in reported losses.
The IC3 says cybercriminals took advantage of the fact that more people were turning to technology during the pandemic. The result was “an internet crime spree,” the center says.
Email compromise schemes — in which a fraudster gains access to an email account and imitates the owner’s identity in order to make unauthorized transfers of funds — were the costliest form of internet crime. More than 19,000 complaints rung up an adjusted loss of approximately $1.8 billion.
Phishing scams were the most common form of internet crime last year, with more than 241,000 complaints accounting for adjusted losses of more than $54 million. Phishing scammers send communications like email or text messages that pretend to be from a legitimate sender but are actually an attempt to trick you into providing personal or financial information or log-in credentials.
The pandemic was a source of many internet crimes last year. Consumers filed more than 28,000 complaints with IC3 related to it. The center received thousands of complaints related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief funding, particularly crimes that targeted:
- Unemployment insurance
- Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans
- Economic Injury Disaster Loans
In the past five years, the IC3 has received more than 2.2 million internet crime complaints representing losses of $13.3 billion.
How to prevent internet-related crime
As internet crime grows, you need to take additional steps to protect yourself from cyber thieves.
Antivirus software provider Norton outlines several things you can do to keep these criminals at bay. They include:
- Install full-service security programs. Look for software that protects against viruses and malware such as ransomware, and that keeps your private and financial information safe.
- Use strong passwords. Use passwords that are a combination of at least 10 letters, numbers and symbols. Never use the same password for multiple accounts.
- Update your software regularly. Updates keep your system protected from the latest threats.
- Be careful with social media. Revealing just a few key details on social media — even something as simple as your pet’s name or mother’s maiden name — can be the key that allows cybercrooks to access your private data.
- Consider using a VPN. Using a virtual private network protects data you send and receive online. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shares his take on the topic in “Should I Get a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?“
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