The FBI reported on Wednesday that Montanans lost nearly $380,000 to online scammers in 2020.

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) 2020 report, non-payment or non-delivery scams cost people more than $264 million. Credit card fraud accounted for another $129 million in losses nationwide.

Special Agent Casey Harrington from the Salt Lake City office of the FBI explains how the scammers work.

“So it's a big time of year for shoppers and it's a big time of year for retailers, so it's also a big time of year for scammers,” said Special Agent Harrington. “They want to seize on this online demand for toys and other products to try to trick people into giving up their personal information, their credit card information and their login information so that they can financially profit from it.”

Harrington said the numbers reported to the FBI are actually a fraction of the actual losses experienced by consumers in the U.S.

“It's millions of dollars, and that's probably just a fraction of what actually happens,” he said. “A lot of stuff doesn't get reported or may not be reported through IC3 may go to local police departments, so there's a lot of it we probably don't even know about, however it's easily into the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Harrington says everyone remembers the ‘Nigerian Prince’ email scandals from years ago, but they are amateurs compared today’s online pirates.

“The criminals are getting better and better,” he said. There's no doubt. It used to be 20 years ago everyone talked about that Nigerian prince scam emails and there were misspellings and grammatical errors, but it's not that way anymore. They can craft emails and text messages to look completely accurate. You would really have to know what you're doing really have to pay attention to notice the difference. We want to make sure people are vigilant and know what to look for when they get these emails or text messages.”

Harrington further described the FBI’s special online investigation unit, called IC3 (Internet Crime Control Center).

“IC3 is the Internet Crime Complaint Center,” he said. “They accept victim information from all over the world. Thousands per day every single day about internet fraud and really helps us identify trends and significant activity, so if we see a specific email being used or a specific website or specific techniques being used by these actors, we can open an investigation and try to figure out who's doing it, so it really helps us determine where to point our resources. It also helps pushing out notices to the public.”

Get more details by clicking this link for the IC3 this holiday gift buying season.

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