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Online Scammers Taking Bigger Bites

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More People of All Ages Falling Victim to Fraud 

By Jason Jones 

Messenger Reporter 

EAST TEXAS – The point at which a society, heavily reliant on technology, crosses paths with a world learning to navigate poverty and a global pandemic seems to be the perfect birthplace for an upsurge in online scams and widespread fraud. 

A record $4.2 billion was lost by Americans to online scams in 2020, with victims often losing their life savings and some taking their own lives. The amount is more than half of the total loss worth $7.6 billion over the previous three years from 2017-2019. Because the crisis is worsening, Social Catfish, an online fraud investigation company, recently released their first study on State of Internet Scams 2021 to offer a comprehensive and real-time overview. The purpose of this study is to equip people with the knowledge required to avoid becoming a victim. 

Methodology of the study 

  • Analyzation of data released by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2021. 
  • Included proprietary survey results after polling nearly 722 members of the Facebook group from SocialCatfish.com called Social Catfish (SCF) Seekers. This group comprises Facebook users who have been scammed out of money. 
  • Interviewed cybersecurity experts and a detective as well as polled SCF Seekers Group on Facebook and sent a poll out to subscribers to get these results. 

Key findings of the study 

  • Total Reported Money Lost in 2020: The IC3 reported a record loss worth $4.2 billion due to online scams in 2020, as stated by the victims who came forward.  It accounts for more than half of the $7.6 billion total loss over the previous three years from 2017-2019. 
  • 20 years old and Younger has the Fastest Growth Rate of Victims: Counterintuitively, the number of victims aged 20 years old and younger have shown the fastest growth rate since 2017, according to the IC3. In 2017, there were 9,053 victims compared to 23,186 victims in 2020, showing a surge of 156% in the number of victims. Senior editor of Security.org Aliza Vigerman, who ran a survey on identity theft stated that those who are between the ages of 18 and 29-years-old were the most likely to be victims of identity theft at 15% compared to those who were 45 and older at 8%. 
  • Spoofing: People need to be aware of a new and highly effective scam, namely spoofing, to which $216,513,728 was lost in 2020 against the loss of $0 in 2017. Spoofing allows scammers to make their phone number appear as if it belongs to your bank, credit card company, or any other company with whom you do business. 
  • Apps Where Most People are Scammed: According to a poll with 726 responses, the top 5 platforms where the most people are scammed are Facebook with 152 people scammed on the platform, Google Hangouts with 99 people scammed on the platform, Instagram with 80 people scammed on the platform, WhatsApp with 50 people scammed on the platform, and POF with 50 people scammed on the platform. 
  • 5 States With The Highest Loss Across all Scams: According to the IC3, California was at number one with a loss of $621,452,320 with 69,541 victims (on average, $8,936 was lost per person). The second state with the largest amount of money lost was New York losing $415,812,917 with 34,505 victims ($12,051 was the average loss per person). In third place was Texas at $313,565,225 with 38,640 victims ($8,115 was lost per person on average). Fourth was Florida at $295,032,829 with 53,793 victims ($5,485 was lost per person on average). Rounding out fifth place was Ohio at $170,171,951 with 13,421 victims ($12,679 was average per person loss). 
  • The 5 States That Have the Lowest Loss: According to the IC3, the list of states experiencing the lowest amount of money lost was led by South Dakota at $3,208,241 with 777 victims ($4,129 was lost per person on average). The second was Vermont at $4,175,799, with 856 victims ($4,878 was lost per person on average). The third state was West Virginia at $4,823,786 with 1,902 victims ($2,536 was per person loss on average). Fourth was New Hampshire at $4,949,296 with 2,015 victims (average loss per person was $2,456). Coming in fifth was Wyoming, at $5,096,704 with 913 victims ($5,582 was an average loss per person). 
  • Law Enforcement Jurisdictional Issues: A major impediment to stopping online scams is that scammers generally originate from outside the U.S. Thus, when a victim comes forward, law enforcement does not have the jurisdiction authority to pursue the scammer. Efforts are currently being made to work with countries around the world to combat this issue. 
  • The Technology Behind Scams: The best way people can avoid scams is through education, password managers, and allowing for AI technology to find scam emails within their inboxes. We also found out that scammers will use any piece of technology they can get their hands on, but mainly use data breaches to gain access victims’ personal information and phishing scams to steal passwords and financial information. 

The number of scam victims has been increasing significantly from 2017 to 2020, especially amongst specific age groups. 

It is somewhat shocking to see that the number of victims who are younger than 20 years has increased by 156% since 2017. This is due in part to the fact that they have grown up with computers and are more comfortable with sharing personal details online. A major example of this would be innocent-looking online quizzes posted on social media, or someone requesting to be their online friend so that the victims would trust them enough to give away their personal information. 

The number of victims who are over 60 years old has increased by 112% since 2017. According to the FBI, this is because they are typically trusting and polite individuals. Scammers take advantage of their willingness to help and come up with emergencies, making victims feel like they should help the person with whom they are talking. Scammers also target seniors because they are more likely to have a larger savings account, good credit, and own property. 

How to avoid these scams 

  • Do not give money to someone on the Internet you have never met in person. 
  • Do not give out personal information to someone with whom you are talking online. 
  • If someone has a job overseas, this is a huge red flag. This person might be a scammer since this is often used as an excuse to not see you or video chat with you. 
  • If someone is randomly contacting you out of the blue on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, it often means a scammer is on the other side. 
  • Make sure to have a password manager to create many passwords for your accounts. This will prevent scammers from easily guessing your passwords. 
  • Use AI technology to find scam emails before they can fool you into thinking they are real. 
  • Search up your email on our email address reverse search to make sure your information hasn’t been compromised by a data breach. 
  • If you have been a victim of identity theft, please report your case to IdentityTheft.gov for further assistance in recovering your identity. 
  • Report any scam that you have been a part of immediately to the FTC, IC3, and FBI. 

Scammers will always come up with a new way to gain a victim’s confidence or fraudulently appear as a familiar or official entity. The key to avoiding victimhood is education and exercising caution at all times. 

Special thanks to socialcatfish.com 

Jason Jones may be reached via email at jjones@messenger-news.com 

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