California Leads U.S. in Cyber-Crime Complaints: FBI

The annual FBI Internet Crime Report was released Tuesday and listed more than 50,000 online crime complaints in California for 2019.

FBI Internet Crime Report

More than 50,000 Californians reported being victims of online crime last year, new Federal Bureau of Investigation data show. Their combined losses totaled more than half-a-billion dollars, the FBI said.

The FBI's 2019 Internet Crime Report summarizes cyber-crime complaints reported through the agency's Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, and offers a broad look at the billions of dollars Americans lost to thieves lurking online.

In its statement announcing the report's release on Tuesday, the FBI said it received 467,361 internet crime complaints last year, or about 1,300 per day. That led to more than $3.5 billion in reported losses by crime victims, both businesses and individuals.

Specific to the Bay Area, the FBI noted its San Francisco offices benefited from criminal activity reported to IC3. Agents say that information led to a sweeping investigation of SIM swapping, celebrity account hacking, and cryptocurrency theft, among other cyber-crimes. The investigation resulted in three arrests in the San Francisco area, agents say, with nearly $20 million worth of evidence collected. The FBI estimates that Bay Area crime operation had stolen as much as $40 million from its victims.

FBI Unit Chief Donna Gregory, the IC3 director, said in the statement many victims fell for well-known scams, rather than any noteworthy increases in new cons.

"Criminals are getting so sophisticated," Gregory said. "It is getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake."

The report found "phishing" scams were the most common by far, with 114,702 complaints -- more than double the amount of any other crime type. "Phishing" broadly includes many types of scams or cons conducted by email, typically with fake or stolen credentials appearing to be from a legitimate source. NBC Bay Area recently investigated phishing schemes that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from would-be homebuyers in the Bay Area.

Business Email Compromise, or BEC, was the leading crime in terms of financial loss, the FBI said. Victims reported $1.7 billion in losses to schemes involving BEC and EAC, or Email Account Compromise.

Somewhat surprisingly, the second-ranked crime in dollar losses was confidence fraud, which involves someone posing as a romantic interest and convincing their victim to hand over large sums of money before disappearing. Victims told the FBI they were out more than $475 million to these types of scams in 2019.

The good news: the FBI says it is enjoying success through its newly-created Recovery Asset Team. Agents say they helped crime victims recover more than $300 million last year, or about 79 percent of reported losses.

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