The recent Federal Bureau of Investigations Internet Crime Report shows that cybercrime has spiked, leaving hundreds of thousands of victims and costing more than $4 billion.

The FBI received a record number of reports last year totaling 791,790, a 69% growth from 2019. Moreover, losses due to internet crime increased by $700 million, growing from $3.5 billion in 2019 to $4.2 billion in 2020.

While people are busy protecting their families from the COVID-19 pandemic and helping those in need, cybercriminals have taken advantage of the increasing reliance on technology to go on an Internet crime spree.

Several types of Internet-enabled fraud have been used by these criminals to target the most vulnerable in our society, including medical workers looking for personal protective equipment, families looking for information about stimulus checks to help pay bills, and many others. The most common scams victims lost money to were business email compromise scams, romance and confidence schemes, and investment fraud. In particular, scams exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last year.

Listed below are the top three crimes reported to the FBI, and what you can do to prevent becoming a victim:

1. Phishing Scams

Phishing scams generated 241,342 complaints, totaling $54 million in damages. In the past year, some phishing scams targeted COVID-19 relief payments, tax extensions or fake small business loans.

Here are a few steps you can take to help avoid falling victim to a phishing scam:

  • Ignore emails, texts, or phone calls that request an urgent response.
  • Verify the sender’s email address and domain.
  • Check for spelling/grammar errors.
  • Never open attachments unless they are expected.
  • Be cautious when dealing with unknown senders.
  • If in doubt, contact the organization the email purports to be from.

2. Non-Payment/Non-Delivery Scams

A total of 108,889 complaints related to non-payment/non-delivery scams resulted in losses of $265 million. Non-delivery of merchandise is a fraud scheme most often linked to Internet auction fraud in which a seller on an Internet auction website accepts payment for an item but does not deliver it.

Here’s how you can help avoid falling victim:

  • Make sure you purchase products from a reputable retailer.
  • Research the company or individual to make sure they are legitimate.
  • Don’t judge a person or company by their website; flashy websites can be whipped up quickly.
  • Be cautious when responding to unsolicited investment offers.
  • When possible, buy items online using a credit card because you can dispute the charges if anything goes wrong.
  • Verify that your credit card information is secure when sending it electronically.

3. Extortion

The FBI received 76,741 extortion complaints resulting in $71 million in financial losses. Threat actors use extortion scams to coerce victims into providing a form of identification. Through these stolen credentials, fraudsters establish a bank account to receive stolen funds, which are then transferred to cryptocurrency accounts.

Here are a few tips for avoiding extortion scams:

Be cautious when you receive phone calls, emails, and text messages from people you don’t know. It is common for fraudsters to misrepresent themselves using technology, even if they seem legitimate.

Keep your computer virus-free and safe. Don’t open any suspicious emails. Delete them as soon as possible.

  • Never send money, prepaid gift cards, or Bitcoin to people you do not know. Businesses and government agencies do not accept prepaid gift cards or Bitcoin as payment.

Is your personal information on the dark web? Make sure your identity isn’t at risk!