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Cybercrime is on the rise in Minnesota

By state, Minnesota ranks 24th on the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s number of reported cybercrimes in 2020 with 6,847 reported. Law enforcement provides tips to avoid being scammed.

A man sitting at his desk looking at the computer.
Sgt. Victor Sofie, an investigator with the Baxter Police Department, talks about the reporting process Tuesday, Feb. 15, and how it is used in the department.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER, Minn. — Though less often reported than other crimes, instances of internet and phone-based fraud and scams are on the rise and, according to officials, show no sign of slowing down.

In 2021, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center released its 2020 Internet Crime Report . It states in one year, internet-based crimes have risen 69.4%, from 467,361 reported in 2019 to 791,790 reported in 2020.

The FBI’s report includes only incidents that are self-reported through its online portal and that number is an understatement of how often cybercrimes occur, said Baxter Police Sgt. Victor Sofie. Most victims do not report their victimization, he said, as they are often embarrassed or may not even know they have been a victim of a crime.

In 2018, the New York Times interviewed the head of the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and reported the “number of complaints only represented about 10 to 12 percent of all estimated cybercrime victims in the United States in 2016, and a fraction of all victims worldwide.”

By state, Minnesota ranks 24th on the number of reported cybercrimes in 2020 with 6,847 reported.

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John Palcher, an investigator with the Brainerd Police Department, and Travis Loeffler, an investigator with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, both talked about the increase in cybercrimes over the past few years.

“We're receiving calls on a daily basis from people who are being frauded, often by (someone) overseas,” Palcher said. “A lot of these originate from phone scams or email scams.”

Loeffler said they have seen an increase in the last year in unemployment scams, as victims report someone trying to get unemployment benefits using their name. Oftentimes victims are notified by the state that someone has tried to take unemployment benefits out in their name.

The 2020 FBI report states complaints have been filed from citizens in several states describing fraudulently submitted online unemployment insurance claims using their identities. Many victims of this identity theft scheme did not know they were targeted until they attempted to file their own legitimate claim for unemployment insurance benefits.

Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, many different crimes can be classified as computer or internet crimes.

“You need to educate yourself and realize that there are countless people out there that are trying to take advantage of people every day through the internet,” Loeffler said. “And they don't care who they hurt, who they step on or how much money they may scam somebody out of.”

From child pornography to credit card fraud and theft, many of these are existing criminal violations that are simply made easier with the internet.

With a rise in reports during the springtime the last couple of years, whether that be some of the stimulus’ or tax rebates, the one thing that's out there is prevention, Palcher said, because when it comes to prosecuting, prosecution and jurisdictional issues, there is very little that can be done in a majority of cases.

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“To protect yourself, never open anything on your computer that you don't recognize,” Sofie said. “Never give out any personal information or financial information. Nobody's gonna ask for gift cards for payment. And if you think you got hacked, or if you get calls or texts, contact local law enforcement and say, 'Hey, this is what happened,’ and file a report.”

Many people are trusting, and the people who are scamming them will do and say anything to steal from them, Palcher said.

“I guess one thing I would recommend to someone, don't talk to people on the phone that you don't know, who have called you,” Palcher said. “I keep giving that same advice out because so many things originate from the phone, where they're cold calling people and their caller ID will show something and people are like, ‘Oh, it says IRS’, or ‘it says it's a Washington, D.C. number.’ It's just a Google number. Your caller ID means nothing anymore.”

Further Steps to Protect Yourself: 

  • Internet crimes, including scams and fraud, can be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center .
  • For information on steps to take if an imposter has fraudulently filed a tax return under your name and claimed a refund go to the IRS website -Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft- and the Minnesota Department of Revenue website.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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