If you felt like the headlines in 2021 were dominated by cyberattacks and cybercrime, you were right. The data is in, and 2021 was a record year for cybercrime on every front, with $6.9 billion lost to internet crimes during the year, according to the FBI’s 2021 Internet Crime Report — more than triple the $2 billion that was recorded in 2020.
Internet crimes can take many different forms, with 30 different types of crimes reported to the FBI. The top three most prevalent of these crimes were phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and personal data breaches. In total, there were 847,000 claims filed in 2021, with other common categories including identity theft and extortion.
The costliest of all the internet crimes during the year, according to the FBI, were email scams, which accounted for around $2.4 billion in 2021. The FBI said that investment scams clocked in at second place with $1.4 billion in impacts and confidence fraud and romance scams came in third at $956 million.
There are several drivers for this rapid increase in internet crime. One of the primary factors is the increased accessibility and time spent online, often in impersonal ways. This trend has only increased in the past year, as many employees transitioned to remote work — all conducted over the Internet. The combination of the adjustment to a “new normal” and increased digitization likely helped drive cybercrime to new heights.
Additionally, cybercriminals have launched new sophisticated ways of attacking users. For instance, their capabilities to create realistic-looking fake sites or emails are more significant than ever, convincing users to enter their information into malicious sites. The FBI also reported new scams involving virtual work, including scammers joining meetings and using deep fakes to convince employees to send them large sums of money.
Both individuals and businesses alike need to watch this rise in cybercrime closely. The personal impact of accidentally falling for fraud over the Internet could be significant for individuals. Additionally, cybercriminals have also targeted business employees, perhaps convincing them to send corporate funds as part of their schemes. In either case, the impacts are potentially significant and should be carefully mitigated where possible.
There are several things that an individual or business can do to help protect themselves from this type of attack. First, they should validate the source of any requests for information or money, even if it appears to be from a person they know and trust. Second, they should educate themselves on better identifying phishing emails, the most common source of cybercrime. Finally, they should consider implementing cybersecurity protections, including email monitoring software and tools such as multi-factor authentication.
The unfortunate reality is that Internet cybercrime will only continue to rise as our society becomes increasingly digital and connected. For that reason, individuals and businesses must take the necessary steps to protect and educate themselves today and into the future.