Surge in Internet Crime Cost Americans $4.2 Billion
March 18, 2021
FBI says it received a record number of complaints from the public
last year about cybercrimes, including scams related to the COVID-19
pandemic, costing Americans a staggering $4.2 billion in losses.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 791,790
complaints in 2020, an increase of 69% over 2019 and the largest
number since the center was created two decades ago, the bureau said
in a report released Wednesday.
By comparison, the total reported losses were $3.5 billion in 2019
and $1.5 billion five years ago, according to the report.
The type of online scam known as Business E-Email Compromise (BEC)
remained the costliest category, the report said, resulting in
losses of about $1.8 billion. Once a fraudster gains access to a
business’s email account, he or she makes unauthorized fund
The COVID-19 outbreak gave scammers new opportunities to steal. The
FBI internet crime center received more than 28,500 complaints
related to people struggling to cope with the pandemic, the report
said, without putting a dollar figure on the losses.
Most vulnerable are targeted
“These criminals used phishing, spoofing, extortion, and various
types of Internet-enabled fraud to target the most vulnerable in our
society — medical workers searching for personal protective
equipment, families looking for information about stimulus checks to
help pay bills, and many others,” the report said.
The center received thousands of complaints related to COVID-linked
unemployment benefit and small business loan programs Congress
created last year.
The congressionally funded Paycheck Protection Program has proven a
magnet for fraudsters. Congress created the program last March with
an initial authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans
to small businesses that keep workers on their payrolls. The Justice
Department has charged numerous individuals with defrauding the
program by setting up shell companies and other schemes.
In the latest case, tech executive Mukund Mohan pleaded guilty on
Monday of wire fraud and money laundering in connection with his
scheme to obtain over $5.5 million in PPP loans and launder the
The top three crimes reported to the FBI’s internet crime center
last year were phishing or password theft scams, nonpayment/nondelivery
scams and extortion, the report said.
In a nonpayment scheme, goods and services are shipped but payment
is never made. A nondelivery scheme involves receiving payment
without supplying goods and services.
Identity theft utilized
In several states, fraudsters filed illegal unemployment benefit
claims using stolen identities, according to the report.
victims of this identity theft scheme did not know they had been
targeted until they attempted to file their own legitimate claim for
unemployment insurance benefits,” the report said.
In recent months, a slew of new scams related to COVID vaccines has
emerged: schemes asking people to pay out of pocket to receive a
vaccine, put their names on a vaccine waiting list or obtain early
“Fraudulent advertisements for vaccines popped up on social media
platforms, or came via email, telephone calls, online, or from
unsolicited/unknown sources,” the report said.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center was set up in 2000 as part
of the bureau’s effort to combat cybercrime. It has received 5.8
million complaints, some of which have been referred to law
enforcement agencies for investigation.