The FBI received 467,361 complaints related to online crime in 2019, an average of nearly 1,300 every day, and the highest number reported since the center was established in May 2000, according to a new report.
The Bureau’s 2019 Internet Crime Report (pdf) published on Feb. 11 revealed they recorded more than $3.5 billion in losses to individual and business victims, with phishing attacks, non-payment or non-delivery, and extortion being the top three crime types reported.
The most financially costly complaints involved business email compromise (BEC), romance or confidence fraud, and spoofing, or mimicking the account of a person or vendor known to the victim to gather personal or financial information.
FBI Unit Chief Donna Gregory, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) Director, said in a statement that many victims had fallen for existing scams as opposed to any new tactics.
“Criminals are getting so sophisticated,” Gregory said. “It is getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake.”
The report found that phishing scams were the most common by far, with 114,702 complaints—more than double the amount of any other crime type. The term “phishing” refers to scammers tricking victims into providing personal information via email, text, or phone which they can use to access bank accounts or credit cards. Scammers typically use fake or stolen credentials which appear to be from a legitimate source.
“You may get a text message that appears to be your bank asking you to verify information on your account,” said Gregory. “Or you may even search a service online and inadvertently end up on a fraudulent site that gathers your bank or credit card information.”
Gregory emphasized that individuals need to be extremely skeptical and “verify requests in person or by phone, double check web and email addresses, and don’t follow the links provided in any messages.”
“In the same way your bank and online accounts have started to require two-factor authentication—apply that to your life,” she said.
With such a high number of complaints, Matt Gorham, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, noted how important it is for individuals to report malicious activity to the IC3 and their local field office.
“Information reported to the IC3 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,” he said.
“It is through these efforts we hope to build a safer and more secure cyber landscape,” he added.
Since it was established in 2000, the Internet Crime Complaint Center has received a total of 4,883,231 complaints.
The report comes after U.S. authorities indicted four members of the Chinese military on charges of hacking the credit-reporting agency Equifax, stealing the sensitive personal information of roughly 145 million Americans and Equifax’s trade secrets.
Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei were members of the People’s Liberation Army 54th Research Institute, a unit of the Chinese military, and their hacking of Equifax in mid-2017 was one of the largest hacks on record.
Equifax has agreed to pay up to $700 million to settle claims by customers harmed by the hacking, which exposed Americans’ sensitive financial records, Social Security numbers, and driver’s license data.