SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Every year, the FBI hears from thousands of Utahns who have lost their money or identities to cyber crooks. Romance scams were reported to the FBI as the second biggest scam in the state, with Utahns losing out on over $1.5 million in 2019. But, Utahns are losing millions more to the agency’s other top five scams.
As the use of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies keeps growing, so do schemes to cheat us. Ransomware is a big one here, as are virtual currency investment schemes where promises of high returns never get delivered. Last year in Utah, these schemes caused over $576,500 in real money to disappear, making it the fifth largest scheme in Utah.
Impostors hoodwinked Utahns out of $583,324 by disguising their phone numbers as legit businesses and agencies on Caller ID, just so we’d answer their scam calls.
Advanced fee schemes are the third-highest money maker in Utah, according to the FBI’s 2019 Internet Crime Report. Think of any scenario in which you’re asked to send money upfront for some sort of reward or deal. It could be an email about an inheritance from a distant relative – just send the processing fee. Or, it could be an amazing apartment you found online with unbelievably low rent – just wire a booking fee so you can see it in person.
These sort of scams swindled Utahns out of $1,326,6211 last year, but the FBI believes that number is actually higher.
“People are embarrassed by it, right?” said special agent Jeffrey Collins, who leads the cybercrime unit at the FBI’s office in Salt Lake City.
Business Email Compromise
We’ve already detailed the FBI’s number two scam in Utah, romance scams.
The top spot goes to business email compromise. That’s where the bad guys hack or social engineer their way into a company’s email system and impersonate execs. Then, they direct employees to transfer money, redirect paychecks, even trick them into buying gift cards as “thank yous” to vendors. It’s how the crooks persuaded Utah individuals and businesses to send them $2,101,274.
“It all depends on how much the victim trusts the other person, right?” said Collins. “And, how good they are at social engineering them and keeping this fraud going.”
The FBI said if you’re pressured via email to transfer money under a deadline, don’t rush. Use a known number to call the email’s supposed sender first to verify the request.