FBI Says "Be Really Vigilant" About This Common Crime in New Warning
The agency says there has been an "unprecedented increase" in this threat.
We're all aware of the kind of crimes that make the news. According to data from U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), overall violent crimes increased by more than 5 percent in 2020, with homicide jumping a substantial 30 percent. But it's not just major headline-grabbing incidents that are causing concern for authorities right now. In fact, the FBI just issued a new alert to Americans about a threat that is growing "exponentially," and is substantially closer to home than many major crimes. Read on to find out what the agency is warning us to "be really vigilant" about right now.
The FBI regularly alerts Americans about rising crimes.
The FBI is responsible for ensuring the safety of Americans, and part of the way it does that is by issuing alerts about concerning trends. Back in February, the agency warned that while the use of QR codes has become more common during the pandemic, they've also provided a new way for criminals to attack. "Cybercriminals are taking advantage of this technology by directing QR code scans to malicious sites to steal victim data, embedding malware to gain access to the victim's device, and redirecting payment for cybercriminal use," the FBI warned.
Just this month, the FBI Boston Division issued an alert about a recent spike in rental and real estate scams as home and rent prices soar alongside inflation. "We have seen a significant increase in the amount of money being lost by people who are desperate for a good deal," Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in the press release.
But these crimes are part of a much larger issue, one that is worsening so quickly that it's prompted the FBI to release another urgent warning.
The agency has seen an "unprecedented increase" in these crimes.
Along with all the undeniable benefits of technological advancements over the years came a significant safety concern: cyber crime. Michael Hensle, a FBI special agent in charge for the Milwaukee Field Office, told local news station CBS 58 on July 19 that this common crime has been rising for a decade. According to the FBI Internet Crime Report 2021, Americans experienced an "unprecedented increase" in cyber crime last year, with nearly 850,000 reported complaints and a potential total loss of almost $7 billion.
"We're facing cyber attacks every day," Hensle said. "May not be something you see every day, maybe not something you hear about every day, but this has been an exponential threat growing over the last 10 years."
Americans need to be "really vigilant" about certain cyber crimes.
As technology evolves, so, too, does cyber crime. According to the FBI's report, business email compromise (BEC) schemes were one of the top cyber crimes reported in 2021, as almost 20,000 complaints were centered around BEC with a total loss of nearly $2.4 billion.
As more people have been working from home since the start of the pandemic, "fraudsters are using virtual meeting platforms to hack emails and spoof business leaders' credentials to initiate fraudulent wire transfers," the FBI wrote in its report. "These fraudulent wire transfers are often immediately transferred to cryptocurrency wallets and quickly dispersed, making recovery efforts more difficult."
Hensle told CBS the rise in business cyber crimes is "just something to be really vigilant about." He noted that the Milwaukee Field Office is trying to work with businesses in Wisconsin to make sure they have safeguards in place to protect their finances. "If someone does get access to [wire transfers], we have limited capability, based on how quickly we know and some other factors, to get some of that back, and people can lose both finances as well as access to their systems," Hensle explained.
But the FBI advises caution whenever people are online.
Cyber crimes are more expansive than BEC schemes, however. According to the 2021 Internet Crime Report, ransomware and the overall criminal use of cryptocurrency were also among the top incidents reported last year. "Everyday tasks—opening an email attachment, following a link in a text message, making an online purchase—can open you up to online criminals who want to harm your systems or steal from you," the FBI warns on its website.
To prevent the threat of cyber crime, the agency said people should "be cautious" whenever they're on the internet. This includes a number of precautions such as keeping your systems up-to-date with strong anti-virus software, not conducting sensitive transactions when connected to public Wi-Fi networks, and using a different password for each of your online accounts.
"If you are the victim of an online or internet-enabled crime, file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) as soon as possible," the FBI advises. "Crime reports are used for investigative and intelligence purposes. Rapid reporting can also help support the recovery of lost funds."