FBI: Online crimes increasing in Florida, California, Texas, Ohio, and New York

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Analysis of FBI data found that nearly $2 billion was stolen from US victims in 2019 just from business email compromise.

welcomia, Getty Images/iStockphoto

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.

SEE: Zero trust security: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“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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Make online learning a priority to increase your company’s competitive edge

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A formal eLearning policy can encourage employees to develop new skills and serve as a recruiting tool to attract new team members.

Training is a good way to keep good employees and attract new ones. Encouraging employees to develop new skills with an official eLearning policy can give individuals and companies a competitive edge over organizations that lack financial incentives and formal guidelines for ongoing professional education. 

A look at the data shows that people are turning to online platforms to improve their soft skills and their technical expertise more now than ever before. Online education site Udemy compared activity 21 days before coronavirus lockdowns started and 21 days after in the report “Online Education Steps Up: What the World is Learning (from Home).”

SEE: eLearning and continuing education policy (TechRepublic Premium)

The report demonstrated an increased demand around the world for digital instruction:

  • 425% increase in enrollments for consumers
  • 80% increase in usage from businesses and governments
  • 55% increase in course creation by instructors

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People turned to Udemy for help with in-demandskills most needed during remote work. Udemy reported increased interest in these skills:

  • Telecommuting:      21,598% increase   
  • Virtual teams:           1,523% increase

  • Decision making:         277% increase

  • Self discipline:             237% increase

  • Stress management:    235% increase

In addition to learning these soft skills online, professionals have turned to online classrooms to improve and validate their technical skills. Kelly Ricker, executive vice president for events and education at CompTIA, said that in March the company saw a spike of interest in Live Online Training (LOT), instructor-led courses that simulate a traditional classroom experience with an instructor and hands-on eLearning tools. 

SEE: eLearning and continuing education policy (TechRepublic Premium)

“Earlier this year when many stay-at-home orders took effect, we saw enrollment numbers skyrocket, so much so that we added classes to accommodate demand,” she said. “We’ve taken location out of the equation, allowing individuals to train at home and test at home.” 

Lily Mok, research vice president on the leadership, culture, and people dynamics team within the Gartner CIO research group, added that having a highly trained team can be a competitive advantage.

“It’s even more important [in this economy] that you grow and build talent to support your needs, because otherwise you won’t be able to recover and scale based on where the business trajectory might be,” Mok said. 

One of the more effective ways to invest in your workforce is with a comprehensive eLearning and continuing education policy. The eLearning and continuing education policy template from TechRepublic Premium provides a customizable framework you can use to create a development incentive package for your organization.

SEE: eLearning and continuing education policy (TechRepublic Premium)

In April, CompTIA launched any time and anywhere testing for certifications after more than 25 years of working in brick- and mortar test centers. Randy Gross, CompTIA’s CIO, said that online testing has had a slow uptake due to the perception of security issues and technology challenges. COVID-19 erased that barrier.

“The pandemic forced us into creativity while ensuring equivalent and fair exams, and they’ve taken off like a rocket,” he said. We had tens of thousands sign up to be alerted to the launch or remote testing, so we know that many CIOs had staff in this situation.”

SEE: eLearning and continuing education policy (TechRepublic Premium)