Victims of cyber financial fraud and other cybercrimes in Kent County now have a designated service from which to seek help.
Heart of West Michigan United Way is partnering with Cybercrime Support Network to add the service to the county’s 211 hotline, which exists throughout the country to help people connect with social services.
Kent County is the first county in Michigan and one of the three entities in the U.S. to partner with CSN on this pilot program, according to Kristin Judge, founder and CEO of the Cybercrime Support Network, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that assists victims.
Small businesses and individuals who are victims of identity theft, financial fraud, cyberstalking, cyberbullying and other cybercrimes underreport, often because of embarrassment, and often don’t know the steps to take to solve their problems, Judge said.
“Everyone knows someone who's been impacted,” Judge said.
Judge said existing law enforcement agencies aren’t really equipped with manpower or training to combat the high level of cyber issues, so that’s where CSN comes in.
Victims of these crimes in Kent County can call 211 and be connected with bilingual staff trained to deal with financial and other cybercrimes. The staff will ask questions and help victims take steps to stop the attacks as soon as possible and remedy damages.
The staff then will walk victims through reporting the crime and connect them with other services they may need, as well as determine how they can increase security to keep the crimes from happening again.
In Rhode Island, where the CSN service is active, half of victims fill out the form online while on the phone with a specialist. In the past month, 1,400 people have filled out the form through the CSN fraud reporting website: fraudsupport.org.
Depending on the type of crime and amount lost, the FBI may be able to recover financial losses if reported in time. Last year, the FBI recovered $150 million in wire transfers, Judge said.
In 2018, more than 350,000 filed complaints from individuals and small businesses totaled a monetary loss of over $2.7 billion. However, Judge said her organization’s estimates the actual losses total about $20 billion.
The FBI said more than 7,500 Michigan residents reported cybercrimes totaling $80.9 million in 2017, which ranks 15th and eighth in the U.S., respectively.
For businesses, the top issue is when someone steals a worker’s email address and then sends emails posing as that worker, often urgently demanding personal information. This issue costs businesses billions of dollars each year, Judge said.
“As the internet becomes more and more integrated into all aspects in our lives, we can expect the need for services like these to increase,” said Michelle Van Dyke, president and CEO of HWMUW.
Judge said there needs to be more government financial support to combat these issues, but there needs to be a clear need presented for that to happen.
“Until we count the victims, we're not going to get that kind of support,” she said. “We need to count the victims. We need to give them a voice. So, our nonprofit, Cybercrime Support Network, is giving cybercrime victims a voice nationally.”
The program is funded by the national Victims of Crime Act Fund, which comes from fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders.
After the program is established in Kent County, it will expand later in 2019 and early 2020 to Michigan residents in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Ionia, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo, Oceana and Osceola counties.
CSN has applied for partnership in 11 other states and expects to be in 10 states by January.