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Alaskans’ losses to online fraud have almost doubled, FBI says

Renee Gross

Alaskans lost nearly double the amount of money to internet scams in 2023 as compared to 2022, according to crime reports to federal authorities. The increase outpaces the national jump in money lost to cybercrime as a rising tide of online fraud affects the Last Frontier.

Those findings are included in the FBI’s annual Internet Crime Report released this week. According to the report, overall United States losses reported in 2023 to the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center rose by about 21%, from $10.3 billion in 2022 to $12.5 billion in 2023.

In Alaska, however, losses over the same time period leapt by about 91%, from about $16.5 million to $31.5 million.

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Supervisory Special Agent Andy Smith, who leads the Anchorage FBI office’s white-collar crime squad, said on March 21 that even the spike shown by the new report doesn’t fully depict the extent of scammers’ take from Alaskans.

“We actually believe that the numbers are underreported,” Smith said. “We think that there are individuals who don’t report these things.”

Smith said that the three main types of online fraud reported in Alaska involve compromised business emails, investment fraud, and so-called romance scams – in which scammers convince victims they’re in a relationship, then ask for money.

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The report shows that Alaska had one of the nation’s highest per-capita loss rates to online fraud last year, ranking sixth. Alaska also had the second highest rate of fraud reports, behind only Washington, D.C.

According to the FBI’s Alaska data, about an eighth – nearly 300 – of the state’s 2,338 online-fraud victims last year were over the age of 60. But they accounted for over $8.7 million in losses, more than a quarter of Alaskans’ total.

Smith said that the FBI extensively investigates complaints and has agents working around the globe. He said that many suspects are outside the U.S., which makes being aware of potential scams before they happen crucial.

“Prevention is so important when it comes to these types of crimes,” Smith said.

Smith emphasized the importance of common online-safety steps like using strong passwords and reputable anti-virus software on computers and smartphones, as well as exercising caution when using public wi-fi networks or hardware charging ports. People should also avoid clicking on links in suspicious emails and text messages, and manually verify any company email addresses or contact numbers provided in them.

Not falling for romance scams, however, takes its own kind of caution.

“Be very careful with any sort of relationship that is a virtual-only relationship,” Smith said. “We see a lot of victims falling prey to fraudsters, especially on social media, who are looking to develop a relationship. Sometimes that can be friendly, sometimes it can be romantic, but eventually these individuals will start asking for funds, or gifts, or gift cards, or cryptocurrency.”

According to Smith, Alaskans should report online fraud to the FBI on the complaint center’s website. He also encouraged people to report corporate data breaches involving their information to the FBI, due to their chronic underreporting.

“Anytime that your information has been compromised, I think you should go to (the FBI’s website) and report it,” Smith said.

The FBI has also created a list of resources for preventing online fraud, and a set of questions that can help highlight whether you or a loved one have been victimized.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the percentage increase of Alaskans’ online fraud losses from 2022 to 2023.
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Chris Klint, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage