FBI: Over $4 billion lost to cyber crime in 2020

FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania avenue sign with traffic reflections at night
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

More than $4 billion was lost by American victims of cyber crime in 2020, according to a new FBI report.

In its 2020 Internet Crime Report, the FBI reveals that the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received a record number of complaints from the American public in 2020. It received a total of 791,790 reports during the 12-month period, a 69% increase compared to 2019, with reported losses exceeding $4.1 billion.

Nearly half of these losses were attributed to business e-mail compromise (BEC) schemes, which accounted for 19,369 of the complaints with an adjusted loss of approximately $1.8 billion.

In particular, the IC3 observed an increase in the number of BEC and email account compromise (EAC) complaints related to the use of identity theft and funds being converted to cryptocurrency.

“In these variations, we saw an initial victim being scammed in non-BEC/EAC situations to include extortion, tech support, romance scams, etc., that involved a victim providing a form of ID to a bad actor," the report said. "That identifying information was then used to establish a bank account to receive stolen BEC/EAC funds and then transferred to a cryptocurrency account.


Remote workforce security report

Key challenges, security threats, and investment priorities of organisations during the pandemic


Another major trend, unsurprisingly, was COVID-related cyber crime. In 2020, the IC3 received over 28,500 complaints related to coronavirus scams, with the majority of the complaints relating to CARES Act fraud, loan fraud, and phishing for Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

“Complaints have been filed from citizens in several states describing fraudulently submitted online unemployment insurance claims using their identities. Many 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,” said the report.

Another growing cyber security trend during the pandemic has been government impersonation, which sees cyber criminals reaching out to people through social media, emails, or phone calls pretending to be from the government. The scammers attempt to gather personal information or illicit money through charades or threats, according to the report.

“As the response to COVID-19 turned to vaccinations, scams emerged asking people to pay out of pocket to receive the vaccine, put their names on a vaccine waiting, or obtain early access. 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.

“As we continue to battle COVID-19, protect yourself from fraud and scams. Do not give out your personal information to unknown sources. If you are a victim of an online crime involving COVID-19, report it.”

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.