FBI says cyber-crime profits reached $3.5bn in 2019

Internet-enabled crimes and scams show no signs of letting up, with the FBI’s annual report on the activity reporting record levels in 2019, at nearly 1,300 complaints per day.

The agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) recorded 467,361 incidents last year, and estimates that criminals raked in a whopping $3.5bn from the illicit activity.

The most frequently reported complaints were phishing and similar ploys, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion, according to IC3’s report (PDF), which says the increasing sophistication of the attacks are making them much harder to spot.

“Criminals are getting so sophisticated. It is getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake,” commented IC3 chief Donna Gregory.

While email is still a common entry point, frauds are also beginning on text messages—a crime called smishing – or even fake websites – a tactic called pharming.

The most financially costly complaints involved business email compromise, romance or confidence fraud, and ‘spoofing’ – mimicking the account of a person or vendor known to the victim to gather personal or financial information.

There were 23,775 business email compromise cases in 2019, for example, with losses of more than $1.7bn reported, often related to the diversion of payroll funds, which was the top scam in terms of amount lost.

“In this type of scheme, a company’s human resources or payroll department receives an email appearing to be from an employee requesting to update their direct deposit information for the current pay period,” says IC3. The change instead routes an employee’s pay check to a criminal.

Confidence or romance fraud was ranked second, with loses of $475m in 2019, followed by spoofing attacks which cost victims $300m. Older people are far more vulnerable to the scammers, with the highest number of victims in the over 60s age range.

On the plus side, IC3’s Recovery Asset Team managed to recover more than $300m lost through online scams in its first full year of operation.

IC3 has urged industry and the public to keep reporting crimes.

The information “plays a vital role in the FBI’s ability to understand our cyber adversaries and their motives, which, in turn, helps us to impose risks and consequences on those who break our laws and threaten our national security,” commented Matt Gorham, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division.

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