In its annual Internet Crime Report, the FBI disclosed its Internet Crime Complaint Center received 351,936 complaints in 2018 — an average of more than 900 every day. The most frequently reported complaints were for non-payment/non-delivery scams, extortion, and personal data breaches. The most financially costly complaints involved business email compromise, romance or confidence fraud, and investment scams, which can include Ponzi and pyramid schemes.
The FBI reported in a release that complaints came from every U.S. state and territory and involved victims of every age. However, there was a concentration of victims and financial losses among individuals over the age of 50.
“The 2018 report shows how prevalent these crimes are,” said Donna Gregory, chief of the IC3. “It also shows that the financial toll is substantial and a victim can be anyone who uses a connected device. Awareness is one powerful tool in efforts to combat and prevent these crimes. Reporting is another. The more information that comes into the IC3, the better law enforcement is able to respond.”
One positive outcome reported by the IC3 included the establishment in February 2018 of the Recovery Asset Team and its success in recovering funds lost in business email compromise scams. These sophisticated scams involve perpetrators infiltrating businesses’ email accounts and requesting fraudulent wire transfers or gift card purchases.
The Recovery Asset Team has helped streamline communication with financial institutions and assisted FBI field offices recovering funds for businesses that report a fraudulent domestic transfer. The team was able to successfully recover more than $192 million in funds — a recovery rate of 75 percent the FBI said.
One successful recovery occurred in Colorado, where a victim wired $56,179.27 for a home purchase to a thief after receiving a spoofed email request from the lending agent. The Recovery Asset Team worked with the Denver Field Office and the victim’s bank to freeze the funds transfer and return $54,000 of the stolen money.
To improve the chances of a successful recovery, it is very important for victims to contact their bank immediately upon discovering a fraudulent transaction as well as report the crime to the IC3.
The large number of complaints aggregated by the IC3 in 2018 also helped improve the data available to all law enforcement agencies as they search for connections among cases and look for trends and patterns in crimes and victims, the FBI said. In addition, the IC3’s Operation Wellspring Initiative helps build the cyber investigative capability and capacity of state and local law enforcement by linking them to the FBI’s field offices for support on identifying and responding to malicious cyber activity.
In 2018, the IC3 also worked with the FBI’s Victim Services Division to add staff to better serve the victims of cyber-enabled crime. The victim specialist-internet crimes position helps provide crisis intervention services, assesses victim needs, and refers victims to additional resources.
The IC3 website provides a list of common and current scams, including phony online auctions, identity theft, employment schemes, lotteries, “Nigerian Letter” or "419," and phishing/spoofing.
The IC3 also offers tips on how to avoid being a victim of an internet-enabled crime. The most important prevention tips include keeping hardware and software updated and protected by anti-virus programs and strong passwords. Other steps include learning how to recognize suspicious messages and requests and researching and verifying the legitimacy of every offer, person, message, or opportunity encountered online.
The IC3 was created in 2000 to provide the public with a reliable and convenient reporting mechanism to submit information to the FBI concerning suspected internet-facilitated criminal activity and to develop effective alliances with industry partners. Learn more at ic3.gov.