Analysis of FBI data found that nearly $2 billion was stolen from US victims in 2019 just from business email compromise.
Citizens in some of the country's biggest states have suffered staggering losses due to a variety of internet crimes, according to research from Florida Atlantic University's Center for Forensic Accounting.
After examining data collected by the FBI, researchers with the university's Internet Crime Research Report found that Washington, Ohio, California, and Florida have become hubs for internet crime since 2015. A team of analysts led by Dr. Michael Crain, director of FAU's Center for Forensic Accounting, pored through the FBI data between 2015 to 2019 to figure out which states had the highest number of victims and highest amount of monetary losses due to internet crime.
California topped both lists in the study, with figures showing the state had the most victims and steepest amount of financial losses due to internet crimes like business email compromise and other scams. For 2019, victims in California lost a total of $573.6 million, a 27% increase compared to 2018.
Florida had the next highest number of losses at $293 million while also posting the biggest annual increase in both victim losses and number of victims over the past five years. In 2015, the average victim in Florida lost about $4,700 but by 2019 that figure jumped to $10,800.
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"Fraudsters are getting more efficient at going after where the money is," said Crain. "There doesn't seem to be any mitigation of the growing trend of online crime. The first line of defense from online fraud is not a technology solution or even law enforcement; it's user awareness. From a policy perspective, governments and other institutions should get the word out more so that individuals and organizations are more sensitive to online threats."
While California and Florida had the most stark numbers in the study, Ohio had the biggest loss rate. Ohio residents lost $22.6 million per one million in population, a steep rise considering the same figure was $8.4 million in 2018.
The most popular internet crimes tracked by the FBI were extortion, government impersonation, and business email compromise, which cost victims $1.8 billion in 2019. Fraud and romance-based scams siphoned $475 million from victims while spoofing schemes brought in about $300 million.
"Spoofing, the falsifying of email contact information to make it appear to have been originated by a trustworthy source, was the crime with the largest percentage increase in victim losses (330%) of the top states during 2019," the report stated.
"Business email compromise and email account compromise, in which business or personal email accounts are hacked or spoofed to request wire transfers, accounted for 30% to 90% of all victim losses last year in the top states and has grown significantly since 2015."
The study notes that one of the biggest problems law enforcement organizations have in protecting US citizens is that many of the crimes originate from outside the country, making it impossible for authorities to exact any kind of justice for victims.
In an interview, Crain said the lack of consequences was only making the numbers rise each year as more people spend more time online and criminals see few downsides to lucrative digital scams.
After creating the Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2000, the FBI began categorizing internet crimes and releasing victim losses. The study focused on the six states with the highest overall numbers, and provides charts to illustrate the changes in crime figures over the years.
Crain noted that business email compromise and romance scams were the most lucrative, and the report highlights that these both represented significant portions of the losses in most states. Other types of crime include corporate data breaches, credit card fraud, extortion, government impersonation, identity theft, investment fraud, real estate fraud, and spoofing.
According to the study, business email compromise accounted for 92% of all online victim losses in Ohio, 57% in New York, 56% in Texas, 47% in Washington, 46% in California, and 33% in Florida.
"Online crimes are growing. There doesn't seem to be any mitigation in the trends. The inability of authorities to catch the people behind these scams may account for no apparent mitigation in the growth of online crime. If you can't get the criminals, they'll keep doing it," he said.
"The most practical defense is public awareness. We have to keep reminding people that they can very easily become victims of online fraud."
In the conclusion of the report, Crain added that "almost certainly, the actual internet crime victim losses and number of victims are larger than what is reported to FBI."
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