It has never been a more vulnerable time to use the internet. Even though it makes up a huge chunk of our daily lives, cyber threats and criminals are more prevalent than they have ever been. Thanks to our increasingly interconnected lives, there’s also far more platforms that criminals can use to access your money and data, meaning you have to be careful with every app and site you use.
Digital money is rapidly outpacing cash, with cashless payment volume expected to increased by 80% by 2025. With banking and investments apps and finance platforms dominating how we manage our money, vulnerabilities are everywhere.
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), losses from online investment fraud have gone up 300% in the last year, with losses totalling $1.4bn in 2021. This makes it the second-most expensive form of cybercrime in the US after Business Email Compromise, which are typically phishing scams that target businesses.
Whether you use Cash App, the most popular finance app in the US, a crypto wallet like Coinbase or the apps of your banking provider, you could be leaving yourself vulnerable to scammers.
Online fraud statistics
Online crime resulted in $6.9bn in losses in 2021, an increase of $2.7bn compared to 2020. Many observed that with the rise of home working and e-commerce during the covid pandemic, the opportunities for cyber criminals grew exponentially. Given that these trends have persisted even after lockdown measures have been removed, this is likely what’s behind the huge increase in victim losses since the beginning of the pandemic.
With banking and finance apps being the most direct route to your money, we analysed search volume around scams and fraud reporting for the biggest banking and investment apps in the US. We compared the results against the overall search volume for each app to determine which apps have the highest percentage of users looking for scam and fraud advice.
|App||Type||Monthly Scam Searches||% of Monthly Searches|
As well as being one of the most popular, Cash App is potentially the most vulnerable banking app in our dataset, with over 46,000 people per month searching for advice and reporting information related to Cash App scams and almost 7,000 a month looking to report fraud.
The app has over 40m users and is most commonly used to make payments between banks. Cash App also has a high number of searches for ‘how to scam Cash App’, suggesting that there are well-known strategies to part you from your money through the app.
Common strategies used to infiltrate and extort money from finance apps include personal data breaches, phishing attempts, investment fraud and credit card fraud. Each of these, bar phishing, has seen a rise in victim losses in the last year, making it essential to know how to fend off these crimes and keep your money safe.
Of the 8 crypto platforms analysed, 5 are in the top 10 for scam searches online. This excluded searches such as ‘is Crypto.com a scam’ and focuses only on searches relating to people looking for scam advice.
Across all 9 apps, there are over 10,000 scam-related searches a month and almost 2,000 fraud searches a month.
The most vulnerable crypto app is Crypto.com. This platform has over 50m users and with 1.4% potentially experiencing fraudulent behaviour, this could be as many as 700,000 users at risk.
Coinbase, one of the most popular crypto wallet platforms, sees over 8,000 scam searches a month, which represents 0.4% of total searches.
The IC3 received over 34,000 complaints related to cryptocurrency. While this was lower than the number in 2020, losses were seven times higher, going from $246m to more than $1.6bn. With crypto still deemed an emerging investment practice, and thanks to its decentralized nature, the likelihood for permanent losses is higher.
Most vulnerable cryptocurrencies
As expected, the most commonly-traded cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, also has the most scam-related searches. This doesn’t suggest that lesser-used coins are safer as cybercriminals will likely target all platforms available to them to gain access to your money. However, the fact that cryptocurrency crime losses are rising at such a rate should emphasize the importance of safety at all times.
Interestingly, the next most valuable coin, Ethereum, sees fewer scam searches than other coins like Tether and Dogecoin which are worth much less per coin.
Investment fraud per victim per state
|State||Investment Loss 2021||% Change Y-O-Y||Loss per Victim|
For overall losses, obvious digital centers like Nevada and California top the list. However, when we analysed investment fraud losses by average loss per victim, we saw a different picture.
Areas with fewer victims saw much higher losses per victim, with all of the top 5 states reporting fewer than 100 victims and over $100,000 in losses per victim.
These states have also seen an astronomical rise in losses in the last year, with Oklahoma reporting a 2,000% increase, Vermont seeing 4,600% rise and Alaskans losing 6,800% more in 2021.
Data breach statistics
Personal data breaches resulted in the fourth biggest loss of money in 2021, with over $517m lost and almost 52,000 reports throughout the year.
Major data breaches of the last year include the finance app Robinhood, which saw seven million records exposed, as well as over 500 million Facebook records being exposed.
|State||Data Breach Loss 2021||% Change Y-O-Y||Loss per Victim|
Unlike with investment fraud, many of the most expected states suffered the highest losses per victim for data breaches, including Texas and New York, which can in first and second. While Texas saw $500,000 lost per victim, the majority of other states saw less money lost per report, meaning victims of investment fraud were more likely worse off than those involved in data breaches.
How to avoid getting scammed online
Online scams are more prevalent and ever-increasing in sophistication but anyone can fall victim to even the most obvious scam if they’re not paying close attention. Even if you’re sure you know how to protect your data online, it’s always good to refresh your memory and research new threats to stay ahead of them.
Phishing or smishing (text phishing) is one of the most common threats users face online. Typically, criminals will pretend to be representatives from the apps you use to try and convince you to send them your log-in data or send you payments to help you with an issue.
Always check the sent address of any email and, if you’re unsure, go to the site or app directly and check your account there before you communicate further with anyone from the platform.
- Learn your provider’s protocols
Whatever finance apps you use, they will have policies in place to help you protect your money. You should read up on how they will contact you in the event of an emergency and what kind of information they will and won’t request so you can more easily spot when someone isn’t telling the truth.
- Antivirus protection for your phone
You could be at risk due to a vulnerability or virus on your phone that you don’t know about. To avoid the chance of anyone gaining access to your phone or apps, download a separate antivirus protection app for an extra layer of security.
- Read up on common scams
The apps you bank with want you to stay protected and many will have dedicated support resources to help you spot and prevent scams. For example, Cash App has a list of common scams people take advantage of that could help you spot when something’s too good to be true before you hand over any money.
How to protect your investments
Whether it’s investments in crypto or more traditional investment strategies, risk of fraud is high so you should do a lot of careful research before choosing where your money should go. Particularly if you’re new to investing, it could be a good idea to consult an investment professional to discuss your options with your money before you venture into DIY investing.
- Do a lot of research or consult someone you can trust
Whatever you’re planning on investing in, do your research into the company, its products and services and its history before choosing to invest. For added safety, start by instructing a trusted and qualified professional to begin investing for you to reduce your risk at first.
- Understand that “guaranteed returns” never are
Every investment carries an element of risk so any promise of guaranteed returns shouldn’t be trusted. Obviously, there are investment opportunities that have little risk but “guaranteed returns” is a phrase often used as a sales tactic and isn’t a reflection of the risk likelihood.
- Two-factor authentication
For all online accounts, you should have two-factor authentication turned on. This is usually a password and a text or email authentication, meaning criminals will need access to both to break into your account. This also means you’ll get notifications for every attempted break-in, meaning you can change your password if it’s compromised and keep your investments safe.
- Cold wallets for crypto
While many people trade cryptocurrencies through an online exchange, these platforms are more vulnerable to criminals and don’t have as much guaranteed insurance as more traditional finance platforms. To ensure your wallet is secure, you can save your coins to a ‘cold wallet’ or hard drive, like a USB stick, removing it from the internet and this ensuring its safety.
Cold wallets typically include a security key which helps you keep it safe if the hard device is ever lost. However, this carries some risk as, if you every forget the key, your coins will be lost.
We used Google search data from Ahrefs.com to identify the finance platforms and cryptocurrencies where users are looking for the most advice on scam and fraud issues.
We also used data from the IC3 to identify trends and issues with investment fraud and data breaches across the US.