Internet Crimes Cost Americans $6.9 Billion in 2021, FBI Reports

Internet crime in the U.S. increased 7 percent in 2021, resulting in losses of more than $6.9 billion, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) said in a report released Tuesday.

The report analyzed more than 847,000 complaints of potential internet crimes, with the top three reported internet crimes listed as phishing scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams and personal data breach, according to a news release from the FBI.

There have been more than 6.5 million internet crime complaints made to IC3 since its formation in 2000, according to the report. The increase in cybercrime last year was not isolated, as statistics outlined in the report show the number of complaints and losses has been steadily growing over the past five years, with complaints especially jumping from 2019 to 2020, when people had to be online more due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Investis Digital said in May 2021 that ransomware attacks increased because "malicious parties are capitalizing on companies being distracted by the massive disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," Government Technology reported. The IC3 report also cited more businesses going online as a reason business email compromise scams were prevalent in 2021.

Government Technology also reported Microsoft said it saw cyberattacks "increase eleven-fold" the week after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health emergency in 2020. In October 2021, the Department of State announced its intention to create a bureau of cyberspace and digital policy dedicated to tackling the issues of ransomware attacks and a global decline in digital freedom.

The IC3 received an average of 552,000 complaints of internet crime per year between 2017 and 2021, with 2020 and 2021 increasing well above that average to 791,790 and 847,376 complaints, respectively, the report added. In 2017, cybercrime losses were at about $1.4 billion, making 2021's $6.9 billion figure a more than 392 percent increase over the four years.

Of all the types of internet crimes, phishing scams were the most popular, making up nearly 40 percent of cybercrimes in 2021, the report said. Phishing involves pretending to be a reputable individual or company via email or other form of online communication and using the messages to send malicious links, thereby gaining access to victims' login information for a variety of accounts.

"It is far easier to trick someone into clicking a malicious link in a seemingly legitimate phishing email than it is to break through a computer's defenses," according to TechTarget.

The next most popular type of internet crime was the non-payment/non-delivery scam, with the IC3 receiving more than 82,000 complaints in 2021, the report said. These scams involve an online seller never receiving payment for an item it sent or an online buyer never receiving the item they purchased.

The largest number of internet crime victims outlined in the recent IC3 report were over the age of 50, with nearly $3 billion of the total 2021 losses coming from victims in this age group. The largest number of victims were from California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Nevada.

Another element worrying some is the idea that Russian cyberattacks could target American citizens, as sanctions have mounted against Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. This would potentially add more steam to an already growing issue in the U.S.

On Monday, the White House urged companies to encrypt their data due to intelligence indicating a potential Russian cyberattack.

Update 3/22/22, 3:20 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.

FBI Releases Internet Crime Report
An FBI report found that internet crimes cost Americans more than $6.9 billion in 2021. Above, a locked smartphone is pictured. Stock Image/Getty Images