The Most Common Cybercrimes in the US May Surprise You

Social engineering was a huge threat in 2020 and likely remains one today. Here's what that means for you.
Adam Rowe

Phishing emails are the top online threat to US internet users, states a new Global Cybercrime Report from SEON Fraud Prevention.

The report pinpoints which countries are the best and worst when it comes to cybercrime — congratulations, Denmark; sorry, Myanmar — but it also ranks the top internet crimes across the United States last year.

We don't know if you will personally be surprised by the most common threats, but they included a few that we didn't see coming. Here are the risks to know about.

Okay, Phishing Isn't Too Surprising

Granted, the number one online security concern in the US in 2020 isn't a shocker: Phishing attacks are the biggest problem you're likely to face, with 241,342 victims accounting for 32.96% of all cybercrime reported in the country that year.

That number includes pharming as well as phishing: Phishing refers to fake emails sent to lure a victim into downloading malware or straight up giving away personal info, while “pharming” refers to a similar trick that uses a fake website rather than an email. Users should keep an eye out for warning signs like email address misspellings that can give away a liar out for your credit card number.

But after that, SEON's list of cybercrime starts to look more interesting.

3 most common: cybercrime

Second Biggest Crime? Non-Payment/Non-Delivery

Non-payment is when a buyer refuses to pay for goods or services that they have already gotten, and non-delivery is the reverse, when someone fails to deliver the goods or services that a buyer already paid for.

2020 saw 108,869 reported US cases, accounting for 14.87% of all cybercrimes in the year. Skipping out on paying your bills might not sound like the most dazzling cybersecurity risk, but it's apparently a big one, much like how wage theft is an underrated threat out in the non-internet world as well.

Third Most Popular Cybercrime: Extortion

Extortion was the third most common form of cybercrime according to the report, which found a total of 76,741 incidents, a number making up 10.48% of all 2020 cybercrime in the US.

“Extortion comes in several forms,” the report found, “with the most common being the use of ransomware to seize access to your files and devices, followed by a demand for money, cryptocurrency, gift cards or any other form of payment.”

Ransomware is an increasingly big deal, thanks to advances in tech and plenty of opportunities to sneak into unsecured networks following the pandemic-spurred shift to remote and hybrid workforces.

VPNs and high-quality remote access software can help. Still, the core issue with all three of these big cyber threats is social engineering — the term for a data leak or breach due to a convincing lie rather than a hack that requires technical know-how.

Social Engineering is on the Rise

Better security won't save you from any of these three top concerns, save for perhaps avoiding a ransomware situation. But someone sending a phishing email or skipping out on a bill will always get away with their crime — unless you can spot the trickier before it happens.

So why are we seeing such a push for social engineering? Ironically, the shift towards lies might just be because hackers can no other options. As long as you have a strong VPN, use two-factor authentication, and generate strong passwords with the right password management tool (we recommend LastPass), you'll remain safe from any hack that isn't social engineering, leaving cybercriminal with a relatively empty bag of tricks.

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Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He's also a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and he has an art history book on 1970s sci-fi coming out from Abrams Books in 2022. In the meantime, he's hunting own the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.

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