The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed the world in countless ways. According to reports there has been some good with the bad. Even last summer it was reported that crime overall had declined and criminal enterprises even found it was much harder in the early stages of the pandemic to launder their money.

Research conducted by David Abrams, a University of Pennsylvania law and economics professor, found that in addition to people driving less during the pandemic there was a reduction in violent crime including aggravated assaults and robberies. However, with the good came a lot of bad. Homicides and shootings were actually up, as well commercial burglaries.

In many cases, a lot of criminals simply did what many others were doing during the pandemic. They went online.

Interpol warned that cybercriminals have upped their game, attacking the computer networks and systems of individuals, businesses and even global organizations at a time when cyber defenses may have been lowered due to the shift of focus to the health crisis.

“For the most part, scammers were already online,” said Jim Purtilo, associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland.

“The Covid-19 shutdowns simply drove more potential victims their way, as we were all forced to live more of our lives digitally,” Purtilo told ClearanceJobs. “We shopped more online, we conducted more business affairs online, and we socialized more online. This made a target rich environment for scammers.”

Increase in Internet Crime

According to new data from FBI‘s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) annual report on Internet crime, there was a sharp increase of cyber crime last year. The 2020 Internet Crime Report found that there were 791,790 complaints of suspected Internet crime, an increase of more than 300,000 complaints, a 69% jump, from 2019.

The good news is that about 82% of the crimes attempted proved to be fruitless – but the gray cloud to that silver lining is that the reported losses from the “successful” crimes exceeded $4.2 billion. About $1.8 billion came from unsuspecting older Americans. It could have been much worse, and things sadly could get worse as criminals are likely to up their game.

Last year’s surge also came as many depended on technology during the pandemic.

“In 2020, while the American public was focused on protecting our families from a global pandemic and helping others in need, cybercriminals took advantage of the opportunity to profit from our dependence on technology to go on an internet crime spree,” wrote Paul Abbate, the FBI’s bureau’s deputy director.

“These criminals used phishing, spoofing, extortion, and various types of Internet-enabled fraud to target the most vulnerable in our society – medical workers searching for personal protective equipment, families looking for information about stimulus checks to help pay bills, and many others,” added Abbate.

Mix of Crimes

Last year saw an emergence of scams that exploited the pandemic, and IC3 reported that it received more than 28,500 complaints related to Covid-19. Fraudsters and cyber criminals had targeted both businesses and individuals, and many of the scams were based around the CARES Act.

A total of 28,500 people filed a complaint – with most involving grant fraud, loan fraud, and phishing attempts to seek personal information. Fraudsters also filed for stimulus checks under an individual’s name using stolen personal information – while scammers also contacted victims claiming to be a representative from the government. The IC3 reported that it had received thousands of complaints reporting emerging financial crime revolving around CARES Act stimulus funds, specifically targeting unemployment insurance, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and Small Business Economic Injury Disaster Loans, as well as other COVID-related fraud.

While the pandemic was widely used, scammers kept to familiar tactics, and the top three cyber crimes reported by victims in 2020 were phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion. Additionally, personal data breach, and identity theft saw an uptick last year.

“People were scammed for having tried services none of us could have envisioned needing only a few months earlier,” noted Purtilo. “We nervously tried new services, and some of us got ripped off.”

The pandemic was just the latest crisis to bring out the scammers.

“After a hail storm or tornado, hucksters will quickly canvas a neighborhood offering tree removal, roof repairs and rapid insurance settlements for damage; they capitalize on a homeowner’s trust in time of need,” Purtilo told ClearanceJobs. “Covid-19 is a storm that swept America, and hucksters are still canvassing our digital neighborhoods via the Internet.”

Elder Fraud on the Rise

“Elder Fraud,” or scams that specifically targeted victims over the age of 60, increased last year. The FBI reports that there were 105,301 complaints totally $966 million in losses. That was enough that the FBI plans to create a separate Elder Fraud report to be published in 2022.

By contrast the 2020 report found that there were just 70,791 victims in the 20 to 29 age bracket, and 88,364 aged 30-39.

Victims over the age of 60 are often targeted by perpetrators because they are believed to have significant financial resources, the FBI warned.

“With lockdowns and social distancing, this segment of the population has become even more vulnerable to crimes such as identity theft and other types of elder fraud,” warned Rajiv Pimplaskar, chief revenue officer at Veridium, developer of user-centric authentication solutions.

“Seniors are especially sensitive to friction such as lengthy and randomized passwords or complex multi factor authentication (MFA) systems, and abusers have historically taken full and malicious advantage of this,” Pimplaskar told ClearanceJobs.

Those over the age of 60 may encounter scams including Advance Fee Schemes, Investment Fraud Schemes, Romance Scams, Tech Support Scams, Grandparent Scams, Government Impersonation Scams, Sweepstakes/Charity/Lottery Scams, Home Repair Scams, TV/Radio Scams, and Family/Caregiver Scams.

Tech support frauds remain a particular bane to victims over age 60, and these schemes often involve someone posing as a technician who will resolve an issue such as a compromised bank account or computer virus.

What is especially worrisome about these scams is that according to the FBI, if the perpetrators are successful after initial contact, they will often continue to victimize these individuals.

“Scammers are also keen that the elderly tend to have larger financial accounts then younger generations, making the swindled payout much more rewarding,” Tom Garrubba, vice president and CISO at risk management firm Shared Assessments, told ClearanceJobs. “The elderly do tend to struggle in adjusting to all of the new and various ways they can be scammed via the Internet and by the phone.”

 

 

 

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.