- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The FBI said Wednesday it received a record number of complaints last year concerning internet crime, including thousands involving fraudsters seeking to capitalize off the coronavirus pandemic.

All told, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, said it received 791,790 complaints during 2020, which combined led to reported losses to victims totaling more than $4.1 billion.

The IC3, which the FBI established in May 2000, noted in its annual report that the unprecedented number of complaints it received in 2020 translated to a 69% increase compared to the year before.

At least some of that spike can be attributed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The IC3 said that over 28,500 of the complaints it received last year, or 3.6%, related to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, criminals are very opportunistic,” said Steven Merrill, section chief of the FBI’s Financial Crimes Section. “They see a vulnerable population out there that they can prey upon.”

The IC3 said thousands of the COVID-19-related complaints it received involved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) that provided financial assistance to Americans.

In several states, the IC3 said that citizens reported that bogus CARES Act claims had been submitted online using their identities.

“Many victims of this identity theft scheme did not know they had been targeted until they attempted to file their own legitimate claim for unemployment insurance benefits,” the IC3 reported.

The costliest type of complaint reported to the IC3 remains a potentially devastating sort of scam called a Business Email Compromise (BEC) or Email Account Compromise (EAC). In either event, an email account is often compromised or spoofed by a criminal who then requests funds from people who might be inclined to oblige. A hacker posing as a company’s CEO might contact their chief financial officer requesting an urgent wire transfer, for example.

The IC3 said it received 19,369 such complaints in 2020 with combined adjusted loss of approximately $1.8 billion.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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