Today, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is embarking on a campaign to increase awareness of the IC3 as a reliable and convenient reporting mechanism to submit information on suspected Internet-facilitated criminal activity to the FBI. As part of the campaign, digital billboards featuring the IC3’s contact information are being placed within the territories of a number of Bureau field offices around the country.
While the number of complaints being reported to the IC3 did increase in 2015 from the previous year, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that there are many other instances of actual or suspected online frauds that are not being reported, perhaps because victims didn’t know about the IC3, were embarrassed that they fell victim to a scammer, or thought filing a complaint wouldn’t make a difference. But the bottom line is, the more complaints we receive, the more effective we can be in helping law enforcement gain a more accurate picture of the extent and nature of Internet-facilitated crimes—and in raising public awareness of these crimes.
The FBI field offices taking part in the billboard campaign include Albany, Buffalo, Kansas City, Knoxville, New Orleans, New York City, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, and San Diego. They were selected because they house multi-agency cyber task forces that participate in an IC3 initiative called Operation Wellspring. This initiative connects state and local law enforcement with federal cyber resources and helps them build their own cyber investigative capabilities, which is important because not all Internet fraud schemes rise to the level necessary to prosecute them federally. We hope to expand Operation Wellspring to other FBI offices in the future.
Through the Wellspring initiative, IC3 personnel—using the complaint database and their analytical capabilities—create intelligence packages focused on particular geographic regions. These packages can highlight trends, identify individuals and criminal enterprises based on commonalities in complaints, link different methods of operations back to the same organization, and detect various layers of criminal activities. The packages also contain results of preliminary investigative research performed by IC3 analysts, including criminal records checks.
Once complete, these intelligence packages go to the appropriate FBI cyber task force and are then handed off to state and local task force members trained to investigate these kinds of crimes.
Beyond Operation Wellspring, the IC3:
- Forms alliances with industry representatives (online retailers, financial institutions, Internet service providers, etc.) that have increased the flow of the IC3’s most valuable commodity—information.
- Makes its complaint database available to all sworn law enforcement (and FBI personnel) through the Bureau’s secure Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal. Accessing the database, users can get information on victims and financial losses within their particular area of jurisdiction to help build cases. Authorized users can also run a variety of statistical reports for themselves and can contact the IC3 for additional analytical assistance.
- Publishes an annual report highlighting the numbers and common types of complaints, along with emerging trends. The most recent 2015 Internet Crime Report described the three major fraud types reported to the IC3 last year—business e-mail compromise, e-mail account compromise, and ransomware.
- Produces periodic public service announcements to alert consumers about the latest and/or emerging cyber crimes and provide tips on how to recognize them. Recent announcements covered tech support scams, stolen identity refund fraud, and the continuing threat from business e-mail compromise schemes.
Explains IC3 Unit Chief Donna Gregory, “IC3 is often the first piece of the investigative puzzle. We receive victim complaints and then analyze, aggregate, and exploit those complaints to provide law enforcement with comprehensive reports that can be used to open new investigations or enhance existing ones.”