The number of cybercrime complaints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation rose 7% in 2021 to 847,376 and total money lost to cybercrime increased 64% to $6.9 billion, the FBI said Tuesday in its annual Internet Crime Report, which highlighted how remote communication and virtual meetings can leave businesses and individuals vulnerable to social engineering attacks by fraudsters.
Cybercriminals stole $2.4 billion by compromising business email accounts, which are often used to initiate fraudulent wire transfers; $1.46 billion through investment scams, which often involved bogus cryptocurrency investment opportunities; and $956 million through confidence fraud and romance scams, in which a scammer may pose as a potential romantic partner before demanding money to remedy a supposed emergency.
The rise of remote work and virtual meetings led to an increase in online scams: one new technique involved scammers inviting company employees to a virtual meeting and then using “deepfake” simulated audio of an executive’s voice to instruct employees to transfer money to a fraudulent account , according to the report.
Scammers are increasingly turning to difficult-to-trace cryptocurrency transactions enabled by crypto-compatible ATMs, which the FBI describes as poorly regulated and offering instantaneous and irreversible transactions.
Senior citizens, whom the FBI says are more vulnerable to scammers because they are often relatively trusting and financially well-off, lost significantly more to cybercrime than younger people—people age 60 and over filed 92,371 complaints in 2021 and reported $1.68 billion lost, while people age 20-29 filed 69,390 complaints but reported only $431 million lost.
California—historically the most cybercrime-prone state, and the site of high-profile incidents including celebrity account breaches and multi-million-dollar “SIM swapping” scams—was hardest hit in 2021, with 67,095 victims reporting $1.23 billion in losses, followed by Texas, with 41,148 victims reporting $606 million in losses, and New York, with 29,065 victims reporting $560 million in losses.
Almost all cybercrime metrics have increased dramatically since 2017—money lost increased by 393% and the overall number of complaints increased by 191%, while reports of phishing—in which a scammer sends an email pretending to represent a reputable company in order to trick the victim into revealing passwords or other information—were up by a whopping 1.178%.