The recent Federal Bureau of Investigations Internet Crime Report shows that cybercrime has spiked, leaving hundreds of thousands of victims and costing more than $4 billion.

The FBI received a record number of reports last year totaling 791,790, a 69% growth from 2019. Moreover, losses due to internet crime increased by $700 million, growing from $3.5 billion in 2019 to $4.2 billion in 2020.

With people focused on protecting their families from a global COVID-19 pandemic and helping others in need, cybercriminals have taken advantage to profit from the increasing dependence on technology to go on an Internet crime spree.

These criminals have used phishing, spoofing, extortion and various types of Internet-enabled fraud to target the most vulnerable in our society – medical workers searching for personal protective equipment, families looking for information about stimulus checks to help pay bills and many others. Victims lost the most money to business email compromise scams, romance schemes and investment fraud. Notably, last year saw the emergence of scams exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below is a breakdown of the top three crimes reported to the FBI, and what you can do to better protect yourself from becoming a victim:

1. Phishing Scams

Phishing scams accounted for 241,342 complaints in the report, generating $54 million in total damages. During the last year, some of the phishing scams targeted COVID-19 relief payments, tax extensions or fake small business loans.

Here are a few steps you can take to help avoid falling victim to a phishing scam:

● Ignore unprompted emails, texts or phone calls that request an urgent response.

● Check sender email addresses and domains.

● Pay close attention to spelling/grammatical errors.

● Don’t open attachments unless they are expected.

● Use additional caution for unrecognized senders.

● Contact the organization the email purports to be from if you’re in doubt.

2. Non-Payment/Non-Delivery Scams

There were 108,889 complaints related to non-payment/non-delivery scams, amounting to $265 million in losses. Non-delivery of merchandise is a scheme most often linked to internet auction fraud in which a seller on an Internet auction website accepts payment for an item yet intentionally fails to ship it.

Here’s how you can help avoid falling victim:

● Make sure you are purchasing merchandise from a reputable source.

● Do your homework on the individual or company to ensure they are legitimate.

● Don’t judge a person or company by their website; flashy websites can be set up quickly.

● Be cautious when responding to special investment offers, especially through unsolicited e-mail.

● If possible, purchase items online using your credit card, because you can often dispute the charges if something goes wrong.

● Make sure the transaction is secure when you electronically send your credit card numbers.

3. Extortion

The FBI received 76,741 extortion complaints that caused $71 million in financial losses. Extortion scams are designed to coerce a victim into providing a form of identification to the threat actor. The fraudsters leverage those stolen credentials to establish a bank account for the receipt of stolen funds, which can then be transferred to a cryptocurrency account.

A few ways to help protect yourself from falling victim to an extortion scam are:

● Be wary of phone calls, emails and text messages from people you don’t know. Although they may appear legitimate, fraudsters regularly use technology to falsely represent themselves.

● Keep your computer safe and virus-free. Do not open suspicious emails. Delete them immediately.

● Never send money, provide prepaid gift card information or send Bitcoin to people you do not know. Businesses and government agencies do not ask for payment in prepaid gift cards or Bitcoin.