North Carolina Launches Cybercrime Hotline

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North Carolina has opened a cybercrime hotline after state residents lost millions of dollars to COVID-19-related cyber-scams. 

The free NC 2-1-1 phone line, one of the first to be launched in the United States, has been funded by state and federal grants. 

Fraudulent schemes claiming victims in the Tarheel State include cell phone cloning, fake COVID-19 test results, fake charities, and scams that seek to exploit people who have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic. 

Nichole Dennis, the program director for Cybercrime Support Network, told WCNC Charlotte: "People are falling on hard times, so there's unemployment scams that are coming around." 

Other scams seek to take advantage of people who have become lonely while living in lockdown. Sharon D'costa, a project manager with NC 2-1-1, said she had observed a rise in the number of romance scams and also in the number of scams involving puppies for sale.

In 2019 alone, more than 8,223 complaints from individuals and small businesses in North Carolina were filed with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, with monetary losses totaling $48,425,764. 

State residents have reported more than $4m in fraud losses specific to COVID-19 since March, according to Federal Trade Commission data. This substantial loss makes North Carolina the 8th most targeted state in the nation when it comes to scams that exploit the global health pandemic. 

“A lot of people don't even realize that they're a victim," said Dennis.

"They don't know where to report; there's not really a clear path of what to do once you're affected by cybercrime."

In a bid to make reporting easier, Dennis’s cybercrime team has teamed up with United Way of North Carolina to launch a statewide cybercrime hotline. 

"Just dial 2-1-1 and they will speak to our trained call specialists who have access to our resource base of more than 90,000 resources," said D'costa.

Victims can use it to report all manner of cybercrimes, from bullying and cyber-stalking to romance scams and fraudulent vendors. 

In May 2020, the Cybercrime Support Network and Heart of West Michigan United Way in partnership with the Heart of Florida United Way launched a free phone line for residents of 13 northern Michigan counties. 

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