Mar 12, 2024 - Technology

Scammers raked in $1.3B from impersonation scams in 2023, FBI says

Data: FBI Internet Crime Report 2023; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FBI Internet Crime Report 2023; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans lost roughly $1.3 billion in 2023 to scammers pretending to be from the government or tech support, according to new FBI data.

Why it matters: Record-breaking profits motivate fraudsters to double down on their schemes.

How it works: Scammers pretend to be a government official, tech support agent or customer service representative to trick people into sending money or other sensitive information their way.

  • These impersonators typically call with fake stories that would motivate someone to share their private identifiable details with them.
  • For example, a scammer might call to say someone will lose their Medicare benefits if they don't pay a new fee. Or they might claim there's a virus on their computer that requires the victim to buy a special tool.

By the numbers: U.S. adults' losses from tech support and government impersonation scams have grown more than sevenfold since 2019, according to the FBI's annual internet crime report, released last week.

  • In 2019, the FBI received 27,506 complaints of government and tech support impersonation scams, resulting in $178.3 million in losses.
  • By 2023, those losses had topped $1.3 billion from 51,750 reports.

Zoom in: Tech support scams — where a fraudster attempts to make victims believe they have a virus on their computer — have skyrocketed over the last five years.

  • Between 2019 and 2023, the number of tech support impersonation complaints nearly tripled, growing from 13,633 to 37,560.
  • Older people, or those over 60, accounted for more than half of losses to tech support scams in 2023, per the FBI report.

Yes, but: These numbers are based only on the cases that victims reported to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

  • Many victims won't call the police after a scam or cyberattack due to shame over falling for a ruse or fear of retaliation.

The big picture: Impersonation scams have become easier due both to the growing availability of generative AI tools and the popularity of remote work.

  • Loneliness and isolation have made people more susceptible to calls from scammers.

Between the lines: Impersonation scams have evolved from cold-calling telemarketing scams to online operations to lure people in.

The intrigue: People of all ages are susceptible to scams — not just the elderly.

  • Only 40% of people who fell for tech support scams reported to be over 60, according to the FBI.
  • Even New York Magazine's personal finance columnist fell for a customer support scam where she put $50,000 into a shoebox and handed it off to someone in an unmarked vehicle.

The bottom line: Be on high alert for imposters.

  • The government will never call, email, text or send a social media message to ask for money, the FTC says.
  • Be wary of anyone who calls randomly with a supposedly urgent financial need — especially if they ask you to buy a gift card or to transfer cryptocurrencies.
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