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IC3 Marks 20 Years
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“The more prevailing trend,” said Gregory, who has been with the IC3 since its founding, “is that those early, rudimentary scams have given way to more destructive and costly data breaches and network intrusions, ransomware, romance scams, and sophisticated financial crimes like business email compromise.” Criminals still target individuals, but businesses and organizations are becoming more common targets because of the potential of a larger payout.

Losses recorded by the IC3 in recent years reflect the greater financial damage of this evolution. In 2019, victims reported more than $3.5 billion in losses—an average of $7,500 for each of the 467,361 complaints recorded that year. In 2001, the average victim lost $435.

Gregory said the IC3 has also seen a shift in the types of criminals perpetrating the illegal activity. Many of the criminals now live overseas, and organized crime groups are on the rise.

“The sophistication of modern online criminals is the most troubling part,” Gregory said. “We used to be able to give people common sense tips to keep them safe; now it is just much harder to tell the real messages and websites from the fake.”

Instead of an impersonal spam message with poor spelling and grammar, the scam may arrive via a well-written email that appears to come from a trusted colleague, business, or vendor.

Another enduring trend revealed in 20 years of crime data is that scammers will take advantage of a moment in time to prey on people who want to help or may need help in the wake of a natural disaster or tragic event.

The center saw an uptick in charity and disaster fraud reports around the time of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and after the Boston Marathon bombings.

In 2008, scammers tried to gather banking information from Americans waiting to receive stimulus checks as the nation slipped into recession.

Now, during the COVID 19 pandemic, scammers are working overtime hawking fake cures and investments schemes, selling protective equipment without the inventory on hand, and looking to take advantage of a more concentrated online presence during increased telework and distance learning arrangements.

“Criminals and scammers go where there is opportunity,” said Gorham. “Right now, they are exploiting a public health emergency to steal from and deceive people who are vulnerable, worried, or seeking vital supplies and assistance.”

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