Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the principal law enforcement agency of the United States, has received a record 1 million complaints related to online scams and investment frauds in the last 14 months. It took the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3) seven years to log its first million complaints, but the most recent million just took 14 months, the agency said. On May 15, 2021, the IC3 reached the 6-million complaint mark. The IC3, besides supporting the Bureau in law enforcement, collects and reports data in an annual report and educates the public by sharing notices about new scams or increase in a certain type of crimes.
According to the FBI, there was nearly a 70 per cent rise in the overall number of complaints between 2019 and 2020. Phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion were among the top three reported crimes in the past year, the agency said in its report. It further said that individuals lost their money to business email compromise scams, romance and confidence schemes, and investment frauds.
Donna Gregory, the IC3 chief, says the rising numbers hold some “positive news”. She explains, “People know how to find us and how to report an incident.” More reporting makes the FBI more effective in investigating cyber-enabled crime. Gregory said, “These numbers indicate more people are being affected by online crimes and scams”.
The FBI also said that the year 2020 saw new scams exploiting COVID-19, adding that the rise in crimes reported last year may have been, in part, due to the pandemic as well. And since the pandemic has compelled all of us to stay back and work from home, the FBI says, that the rise in complaints this year may, in part, may also have been due to the coronavirus pandemic driving more commerce and activities online. If the 2020 numbers are anything to go by, the 2021 figures may see another record rise.
The FBI report on the massive rise in the number of complaints concerning online scams and investment fraud comes a day after it was reported that scammers impersonating Elon Musk stole over $2 million (roughly Rs. 15 crores) in cryptocurrency since October last year.
Data shared by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a US consumer protection body, shows that nearly 7,000 people have been defrauded since October 2020, reporting losses in bogus cryptocurrency investments, adding up to over $80 million (roughly Rs. 585 crores). These scams, it says, can happen in many ways and they are “full of fake promises and fake guarantees”.
A common form of scam, according to the FTC, involves a promise that a celebrity associated with cryptocurrency will multiply the money you send in digital currency and then return it. The scammers also use online dating sites to sweet-talk people into bogus crypto investments in the name of love.
What's even more striking is that many people in their 20s and 30s have lost more money on investment scams than any other type of fraud, the FTC report stated, and noted that Musk was a popular figure for scammers to impersonate.
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