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Scammers target tech-savvy teenagers online in latest scam surge

New data from the FBI and Federal Trade Commission shows Minnesotans lost $84 million in 2021 to online scams.

MINNEAPOLIS — It's no secret that online scams have been around for awhile.

But new data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Federal Trade Commission shows that victims are being conned out of more cash than ever before.

Online search and verification site Social Catfish recently released a State of Internet Scams 2022 study, which cited data showing $6.9 billion was lost to online scams in 2021, up from $3.5 billion in 2019. 

"Ten years ago if someone had told me anyone can be a victim of cyber crime, anyone can have this happen to them, more or less, I would have laughed at them," said TCE Strategy CEO Bryce Austin. The Lakeville-based business teaches companies about cyber security. Austin says internet scams, including ransomware, are growing. 

"More and more people are online and as you have more folks who come into this online world, without understanding people anywhere can go after you, people don't assume malicious intent," said Austin.

The data also found that 5,844 Minnesotans lost a total of $84 million last year, which is up from $58 in 2020. It also reports that the average person was tricked out of $14,123 a piece last year.

"I think Minnesota nice is putting us in a bad position," said Austin. "What happens is that the thinking part of our brain shuts down and we start reacting without thinking it through."

Red flags include an urgent intent, poor grammar, refusing to video chat, working overseas or asking to be paid in gift cards or cryptocurrency.

Even tech-savvy teens in the last five years saw an 1,125% increase in money lost, in part, Austin says to online gaming. That's the highest increase of any age group, even surpassing seniors that saw a 390% increase during the same period.

College-educated and lower class Americans mostly fall victim to romance scams. But it's cryptocurrency and investment scams that are skyrocketing. The data shows a record $1.6 billion was lost to cryptocurrency scams in 2021 - a nearly seven-fold increase from 2020.

"It doesn't matter how educated you are in general, it matters how educated you are about cyber crime," said Austin.

Austin said some tips to avoid online scams include setting up multi-factor authentication for your bank and social media accounts. Use different passwords and download automatic software patches for your electronics. 

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