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FBI list: Top scams of 2020 – and how to avoid them in 2021

Viral scams are a serious problem, not just in the U.S. but globally. The latest statistics from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center show just how widespread they truly are.

And don’t think that the global pandemic slowed things down for scammers either. On the contrary, the FBI has seen more complaints over the last year than years prior. Tap or click here for eight tips to avoid coronavirus scams.

But it’s not just scams related to COVID making the rounds. There are still oldies but goodies to watch for. Let’s take a look at a list from the FBI detailing the top scams from 2020 and how to avoid them this year.

Here’s the backstory

The FBI’s Internet Crime Report is released annually, and the shocking scope of online scams has been highlighted in the 2020 version. The FBI logged 791,790 complaints in 2020. That’s more than 300,000 additional logged complaints than it received in 2019.

Falling for a scam can see your life savings drained overnight. The report reveals that criminals siphoned off more than $4.2 billion in 2020. Over the last five years, the FBI has received more than 2.2 million complaints, totaling $13.3 billion in losses. Yikes!

“While the American public was focused on protecting our families from a global pandemic and helping others in need, cybercriminals took advantage of an opportunity to profit from our dependence on technology to go on an internet crime spree,” the report states.

Top crime categories for scams

For criminals, the most lucrative scam continues to be phishing. The act of getting the victim’s personal information through email, phone calls or text messages more than doubled compared to 2019.

The FBI received 241,342 complaints of phishing attacks in 2020. While the same types of scam only received 114,702 complaints in 2019.

How to avoid phishing scams:

  • Be wary of links – Never click on links or open attachments found inside unsolicited emails or texts. They could be malicious and infect your device with malware or lead to a spoofed site that will steal your credentials.
  • Don’t respond with sensitive information – If you receive an email or text from a company you do business with, don’t reply to it with sensitive data like banking info or account credentials. Instead, contact the business through official phone numbers and websites directly.
  • Watch for grammatical errors – Cybercriminals are getting better at spelling and grammar but keep an eye out for these types of mistakes. Real companies will not send official correspondence with spelling and grammar errors.

The next most common scam that people fall for is non-payment or non-delivery scams. In these, the criminal will put an item up for sale or auction, but after you pay, the item will never be delivered.

A non-payment scam is when you sell something to a criminal, and their check bounces. Here’s another devious twist. The buyer sends you a check for more than you sold the item for. They then ask you to cash it and send them the balance. The problem is, their check eventually bounces and you’re out not only the amount the item sold for but also the balance you sent.

Extortion, personal data breaches and identity theft round out the top five scams for the last five years. The FBI also states that it received almost 29,000 complaints relating to COVID-19 crimes, with most of them using the CARES Act as a disguise. Crimes included grant fraud, loan fraud, and phishing for Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

Top states targeted by scams

Both coasts of the U.S. suffer equally when it comes to falling for online scams. The report indicates that California is rich pickings for cybercriminals, while Florida is just as lucrative. Interestingly, North Dakota logged the fewest complaints with only 760, while South Dakota filed 777 complaints.

The top 10 states and number of victims:

  1. California (69,541)
  2. Florida (53,793)
  3. Texas (38,640)
  4. New York (34,505)
  5. Illinois (20,185)
  6. Pennsylvania (18,636)
  7. Washington (17,229)
  8. Nevada (16,110)
  9. New Jersey (14,829)
  10. Maryland (14,804)

California victims lost $621 million to online scams in 2020. New York residents lost $415 million and Texans $313 million.

If you’re over 60, you’re a prime target

Online scams naturally make use of technology and services. Younger people are savvier when it comes to spotting cybercrime. For that reason, criminals are overwhelmingly targeting the older generation, with 105,301 complaints filed by those over 60.

Age groups and the number of complaints filed:

  • Under 20 – filed 23,186 complaints
  • 20 – 29 – filed 70,791 complaints
  • 30 – 39 – filed 88,364 complaints
  • 40 – 49 – filed 91,568 complaints
  • 50 – 59 – filed 85,967 complaints
  • Over 60 – filed 105,301 complaints

A massive $966 million was stolen from victims over 60, while those 20 and under lost $70 million.

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