FBI receives record level of complaints for online scams, investment fraud

Victims are set to lose the most when they fall for romance scams and business email compromise.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The FBI says that complaints concerning online scams and investment fraud have now reached a record-breaking level. 

The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received its six millionth complaint on May 15, 2021. While it took close to seven years for the IC3 to register its first one million reports, it took only 14 months to add the latest million to file. 

According to the US agency, annual complaint volumes increased by close to 70% between 2019 and 2020. The most common crimes reported were phishing scams, schemes relating to non-payment or non-delivery, and extortion attempts. 

The coronavirus pandemic paved the way for new kinds of scams over 2020, many of which centered around fake vaccination appointment requests, online delivery notifications -- a popular phishing method made even more so due to stay-at-home orders -- and spam sent under the names of agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO). 


IC3 says that the most money is lost through three forms of online scam:

-Business email compromise (BEC): BEC scams, usually crafted through social engineering and phishing, target businesses and attempt to dupe employees into paying for non-existent services, thereby transferring money belonging to a business into an account controlled by cybercriminals. 

See also: This cybersecurity threat costs business millions. And it's the one they often forget about

-Romance, confidence scams: These can include the stereotypical scheme in which scammers will pull on the heartstrings of victims to pressure them into sending money, as well as sextortion. Recent cases reported by UK police included scammers that conducted video chats with potential 'matches,' asking them to perform sexual activities on camera, and then blackmailing them for money. 

In January, Interpol warned of an increase in dating apps being used by fraudsters to connect to potential victims, and once trust is established, conning them into signing up for fake investment opportunities. 

-Investment fraud: These can include dump-and-dump schemes for worthless stock, as well as cryptocurrency or other investment plans that promise guaranteed returns far beyond initial investments. 

"The increase in crimes reported in 2020 may have also been due in part to the pandemic driving more commerce and activities online," the FBI says. "The latest numbers indicate 2021 may be another record year."

On May 17, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned that consumers have lost over $80 million to cryptocurrency investment scams since October 2020. 

Touted by celebrities including Elon Musk, renewed interest in the cryptocurrency space has unfortunately also led to an increase of cryptocurrency-related scams. 

The FTC says that close to 7,000 reports of cryptocurrency fraud were received from US consumers in the last quarter of 2020 and Q1 2021. The average loss faced was $1,900 per victim. 

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