As cybercrime soars, here’s how to stay one step ahead

May 13, 2021 | By Sophie Hares

From creative cryptocurrency scams to convincing deepfake videos, cybercrime is reaching new levels as fraudsters cash in on the fact that over the past year, life has moved to our computers, phones and tablets.

The impact has been enormous. Increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks cost almost $1 trillion in 2020 alone, according to computer security firm McAfee and the Center for Strategic and  International Studies.

While sophisticated cybersecurity software can benefit most organizations, everyone can keep themselves safer by adopting simple cyber hygiene practices and keeping an eye out for details that can signal a scam in the works. Organizations should also encourage their employees to stay on alert, as personal data can also be used to access corporate networks, giving criminals a backdoor into information systems and setting the stage for ransomware and other attacks.

Here’s how to fend off some of the newest and most common scams:


Runaway stock prices for cryptocurrencies are luring unsophisticated investors who can be the perfect target for scammers. Slick-looking websites offering high-reward, low-risk cryptocurrency mining investments should instantly ring alarms.

Be alert to spoof URLs that direct people to “imposter websites” designed to look like well-known companies. Some scammers rip off legitimate logos and use them for phishing emails to con people into handing over the data they need to swiftly empty virtual wallets.

As usual, social media is a fraudster’s favorite hunting ground. Be alert to fake Twitter and Facebook accounts offering lucrative crypto deals as well as fraudulent digital wallet apps. Fraudsters are also increasingly using social media platforms as a fishing ground and cryptocurrency as the lure to find money mules — the people who sometimes willingly, sometimes unknowingly launder illegally-obtained money for criminals, by converting the money into bitcoin in exchange for a small percentage, as an example. 

To avoid being scammed, do your research. Always double-check URLs and dig around online for reviews about companies and their teams. If a cryptocurrency investment offer is too good to be true, you can bet your bitcoin it probably is.

Synthetic ID

Vast data breaches of the past few years have resulted in enormous caches of personal data on the dark net. Networks of high-tech criminals are piecing together this information to create new, untraceable identities. It sounds like something from a movie plot, but synthetic ID fraud is one of the fastest-growing financial crimes.

By mixing real-life details, such as social security numbers, with fake names or addresses, fraudsters can gradually build up legitimate-looking identities that they use to open bank accounts or make purchases.

Often bypassing traditional fraud detection, some criminals play the long game. They spend years carefully building up a credit history using a synthetic ID before taking out hefty loans and then disappearing.

Mixing sophisticated artificial intelligence tools with human checks can help companies better detect synthetic ID fraudsters.

As a consumer, keep a tight grip on vital details, such as your social security number, and always check your bank and credit card transactions to make sure your name is not being used in fraudulent transactions.


Jerky movements, strange blinking and badly-synced speech once made it easy to spot deepfake videos. But better technology is making them much harder to detect — and a much bigger threat.

Experts say deepfake videos, which use artificial intelligence to swap faces and copy voices, are becoming so realistic that criminals are starting to use them to blackmail and extort people and businesses.

In one case, criminals used AI technology to impersonate a German chief executive’s voice and convinced an executive at one of his subsidiaries to urgently transfer to them more than $240,000.

To protect themselves, companies can install detection tools to spot deepfakes, ramp up security to stop hackers from getting hold of materials and strategize how to respond if they do get scammed.

For the rest of us, be careful about how many videos and images you post on social media that could be siphoned off by criminals.

SIM swapping

SIM swapping is on the rise, with victims losing access to everything from their bank accounts to social media and email.

To SIM swap, scammers call your mobile phone company and, with just a few scraps of easily accessible personal data, convince a call center employee that they are you. Next, they ask the mobile company to assign your phone number to their SIM card — and then they receive all your messages and phone calls.

Thanks to the two-step verification processes that send security codes via SMS to your phone, it’s only a matter of time before they can access your bank, investment fund or social media account.

The impact can be devastating as scammers rack up loans, clean out bank accounts and wreak social media havoc before users even realize they’ve been SIM-jacked.

Adding a PIN code to your mobile account, being more cryptic with your passwords and immediately contacting your phone provider if you lose service can help guard against SIM swapping.

As cybercriminals up their game, staying up to date on the latest scams and ramping up your personal online security is more essential than ever be one step ahead of the scammers to keep your money and data safe.

Sophie Hares, Contributor