by Jim Haigh, Keep Me Posted North America

Online fraud did not take a break for the pandemic. Just the opposite, crimes and complaints are exploding across all categories measured by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC just released its Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2020, a comprehensive catalog of consumer reports about fraud, identity theft, online exploits and scams, along with other consumer protection topics. It provides nearly 100 pages of data and analysis of consumer abuses registered directly with the FTC and across its network of federal, state and local partners in consumer advocacy, protection and law enforcement.

The FTC data show that identity theft more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, representing nearly one-third of all types of complaints, with a record high 1.4 million and growing. Billions of dollars were lost, with seniors faring far greater financial harms on a per case basis. Incidents in subcategories like fraudulent use of identities for government benefits rose a stratospheric 2,920% year over year. And criminals are increasingly exploiting digital communications via text, email, social media, websites and apps to hunt and harm victims.

Diving deeper into the FTC’s Data Book 2020, troubling trends emerge regarding the threats coming from malicious digital communications. In just the last three years, unsolicited emails exploded 394% and unsolicited texts towered upwards 227%. Over the same span, malware and computer exploits increased an astronomical 2,684% — and the privacy and data security subcategory recorded an astonishing 152,967% increase in incidents from 2019 to 2020.

These alarming trends are accelerating seemingly out of control. The real and widespread harms validate the concerns of eight in 10 consumers surveyed by Keep Me Posted (KMP), and reinforce their reasons for wanting the option of paper communications. While FTC guidance on digital hygiene is helpful in preventing some digital deceptions and damage, ensuring that consumers are not forced into digital communications without express consent — and that all have the option of paper correspondence if that’s their preference — will do far more to protect society.

KMP urges both government and the business community to seriously consider the FTC’s findings, particularly in regard to the pandemic of digital communications exploitations. Federal agencies should beware of issuing new regulations that allow companies to switch consumers from paper defaults into receiving critical communications electronically,  and instead ensure that they are allowed to proactively opt in to digital. Likewise, companies should always give consumers the option of paper bills, statements and other important notices free of charge and allow them to be in control of all communications preferences.

Consumers already have the burden of fending off cyber criminals and suffer the consequences when they are victimized. Paper options provide the consumer protections so many need – now more than ever.

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