BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Cybercrime is a massive global threat that’s growing every day.
Millions of people in the United States are victimized by Internet crimes each year, but surprisingly, many don’t file a complaint with law enforcement agencies.
“That’s how the bad guy gets his money,” said Jason, a program analyst with the FBI’s (IC3) Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Internet crimes pose one of the greatest challenges in crime fighting history as federal, state and local law enforcement try to keep pace with fraudsters looking to outsmart today’s cyber security measures.
“The sophistication in the last 15 years is just overwhelming. What happened even five years ago. It’s just really evolving,” said Donna Gregory, IC3s acting unit chief.
Victims, which includes businesses, are left financially and emotionally drained from intrusions, data breaches, and money scams.
Tech-savvy thieves are looking steal identities, money and intellectual property.
“It has evolved to the point to where all crimes almost always have some connection to the Internet,” Gregory said.
News 4 was given rare access to the IC3 building located in the hills of West Virginia. It’s where analysts review complaints in real time, evaluate them and look for commonalties and trends. Think of it as a repository for Internet-related complaints, three million and counting since 2000, coming in from around the world.
“The crimes sort of stay the same, but the sophistication level and the tactics are a little different,” Gregory explained.
Many victims never file a complaint
IC3 received 269,422 total complaints in 2014. That represents about $800 million in losses.
But the folks at IC3 say that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s estimated that less than 10 percent of victims of Internet crimes file a complaint directly with IC3.
Complaints can be filed online at the IC3.gov website. Authorities say the more detailed information a person can provide the better.
“We can take that actual factual information, as detailed as possible, and get it to the right people that are going to follow through with this,” Jason added.
IC3 does not perform investigative work. Instead, the team assembles the best leads on cybercrimes and sends out the information to FBI field offices, including Buffalo. The information is shared with state and local authorities, and in some cases referrals are made to international law enforcement agencies for possible investigation.
Complainant statistics by state
Social media connection to Internet crimes
IC3 staffers have noticed a surge in the number of Internet-related crimes with a connection to social media.
According to IC3s 2014 report, in most cases, a victim’s personal information was exploited through compromised accounts or social engineering.
“That’s quadrupled over the past five years,” said Gregory. “Now we’re seeing 12 percent of our complaints actually have a nexus of some sort to social media.”
As the world becomes more connected, the risk of being victimized has increased.
Tough lift to recover stolen money
A News 4 Investigation in March featured three Western New York women who claimed they were the victims of an online romance scam.
Romance scams involve people pretending to seek companionship or romance online. Victims think they’re involved with an honest and trustworthy companion, often for several months or longer, without ever meeting in person.
“They’re meeting these people. They don’t realize that the person on the other end may or may not be the person they think they are,” said Janette, an IC3 Internet crime specialist.
Tracking Internet crimes is one thing. Getting the money back is another.
“Your chances of getting your money back are probably slimmer than we would hope, “ Gregory added.
And while there are multiple arrests and convictions every year for Internet-related crimes, recovering stolen money can be a heavy lift.
“Once the money leaves the U.S. shores either electronically or in the real world it’s very, very difficult for us to get it back,” said William Hochul, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York.
According to Hochul, law enforcement has had success prosecuting cases where the predators are located in the U.S.
“They have some sort of assets or bank accounts of their own. In that instance we can put seizure warrants on the property of the defendants, and then after conviction try to get it back to the victims.”
The FBI actively highlights the capabilities of IC3 to local law enforcement and assists them in gaining IC3 access for their own intelligence and investigative purposes.
Brian Boetig, special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office, said law enforcement agencies in the Western New York area are trying to get ahead of the game.
He said the FBI assists local law enforcement agencies in developing their own in-house investigative capabilities, and investigates cases when the crimes reach federal thresholds.
“It’s a very difficult crime especially for a local police department to have to work when the subjects usually don’t live in the same city, and often times they live overseas,” said Boetig. “You’re talking about a victim that lives in one place. A suspect who lives in another place…might even be out of the country who banks in a third location.”
That complexity makes IC3s job of aggregating victim information critical in terms of piecing together the best possible case.
And it doesn’t matter how big or small the financial loss.
“If they file that complaint maybe there were another hundred people that shared the same dollar loss, and we can build that case and get that out to law enforcement,” Gregory said.