More than One Million Cybercrimes Reported During Pandemic

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Illustration by Richard Patterson via Flickr

Internet crime is a “rising threat” to U.S. households and businesses, as attacks ranging from ransomware to cybersabotage continue to evolve in sophistication and scope, according to an Atlas VPN analysis.

The VPN service, which lets users browse the internet anonymously, examined data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet Crime Center (IC3).

IC3 now registers about 2,331 complaints daily.

Registered complaints have surged since the IC3’s creation in 2000. While it took the IC3 seven years to reach its first million complaints, the center recorded its most recent million in 429 days — between March 12, 2020 and May 15, 2021.

The IC3 has registered six million complaints overall as of May 15.

The recent surge coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also signals some emerging cybercrime “trends” that are likely to accelerate as the U.S. begins to emerge from lockdown.

Ransomware attacks, which target large companies and offer hackers lucrative opportunities, have had repercussions for consumers nationwide. A recent ransomware attack forced The Colonial Pipeline Company, which operates the country’s largest petroleum pipeline, to disable some parts of the pipeline May 7.

DarkSide, a hacking group, demanded $4.4 million worth of bitcoin from Colonial Pipeline in ransom, which the Department of Justice (DOJ) partially recovered — but not before gas shortages and price spikes rippled through some eastern states.

“[T]his type of attack is a low-risk endeavor for hackers and an easy way to make some quick money,” the Atlas VPN report reads.

The IC3 has also registered more phishing schemes, a trend partially attributable to the pandemic, as remote work, unemployment, and health concerns confined many Americans to their home computers.

Many phishing schemes — which siphon money and information from consumers through fraudulent emails from banks, mortgage companies, or internet service providers —exploited Americans’ uncertainty during the pandemic, VPN said.

Consumers have collectively lost $469 million to stimulus payment fraud and other COVID-19 scams, many of which target elderly people.

As Americans continue to receive vaccines, some phishing scammers have begun to impersonate government officials offering “to vaccinate residents sooner if they fill out documents with their personal data,” according to the Atlas VPN analysis.

As COVID-19 travel restrictions loosen, scammers are also turning to travel fraud, which encompasses fake travel and booking agents, as well as fraudulent copy-cat airline websites. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data indicates that consumers have lost nearly $75 million to vacation schemes since last year, ABC 11 reports.

The Atlas VPN analysis advises consumers to report internet crime to the FBI by filing a complaint with the IC3.

“Similar or even more vicious cyberattacks will likely continue as many people, and companies still ignore the rising threat,” the report reads.

“Examples of cybercrime throughout the past years have shown that it is worth investing time and resources to counter threat actors and reduce cyber risks.”

To access the full report, please click here.

This summary was prepared by TCR Justice Reporting intern Eva Herscowitz.

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