Trends In Cyber Scams Around The USA - Letter From the Chief

This ran as Letter from the Chief in the newsletter from the Department of Public Safety where I serve as a reserve investigator.

Over the past few months, we have written about specific cyber-related scams and dangers. In this letter, I thought I would let you know how these kinds of threats to residents of our city fit into the wider American picture.

To do this, we contacted law enforcement officers across America to ask them the kinds of issues they are facing.

The top five answers were predictable, but the scale is surprising. The difference between the kinds of cyber attacks that we hear about on the news - attacks that target businesses and government, like business email compromise and network intrusion - and those that target citizens has resulted in two new terms.

The business-facing attacks that can only exist in the cyber realm are called “cyber attacks,” while the ones we need to worry about personally are called, “cyber-enabled crime”.

This category means that, while there is a cyber component (like using our cell phones, the Internet, or electronic gadgets like AirPods), the crimes underneath are what we used to call confidence schemes.

Or, more simply, swindles.

First, let me tell you about a great resource from the federal government: the Federal Trade Commission has a good compendium of the categories of cyber-enabled crimes from debt-relief, business and investment and charity scams to imposter swindles.

Lieutenant Glen Mills of the Burlington (MA) Police Department told us that, as here in our community, the top five scams in the Boston, MA area currently are:

  • Grandparent scams (the kind we wrote about here)
  • IRS or other law enforcement scams
  • Microsoft support cons
  • Kidnapping scam (the same as the grandparent scam, but directed at other relatives
  • Sextortion

The sextortion scam is quite disturbing, as it targets young teenagers and doesn’t always involve money.

Teens are baited into conversations and ultimately tricked into sending nude or semi-nude images or videos of themselves (or, sometimes, of siblings) and then extorted.

We’ve seen a fair bit of this in North Central Texas, too. Sometimes the sextortions require the teen or even pre-teen victims to engage in further cyber criminal acts such as sending messages on behalf of the criminals.

And the sextortion schemes can be deadly - in rare cases, these messages have included Swatting, which is calling in false reports to the police in order to cause an emergency armed response.

As always, we recommend that parents speak with their young children and teens (a recent FBI release said that they have seen complaints from children as young as 10) about some of these dangers.

Jenelle Hudok, lead criminal intelligence analyst for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, says they have seen recent scams in which criminals follow up scam phone calls by physically showing up at the victims’ homes to extort cash or gift cards. They’ve seen this mainly with grandparent scams.

Of course, your local police are here to help: we are always available to discuss these issues with residents, and provide resources for further education.