The Bad News For 2021- An Editorial by Tim McGuinness Ph.D.

The Bad News Analysis For 2021

An Editorial by Tim McGuinness, Ph.D., SCARS Founder

Presented by SCARS

An Assessment Of Where We Are Now!

By Dr. Tim McGuinness, November 11, 2021

I was part of several conference calls and presentations this last couple of weeks that was on global cybercrime and the grim state that we are in now. Unfortunately, the news in these calls was especially bad in many ways. But there was good news too. Cybercrime has been with us since the early 1990s, but with the pandemic is has truly exploded beyond anything we knew.

First For the Bad News


Overall, what the world has been learning over the last two years during the pandemic is that scams or all types were up over 2,000% in 2020 from 2019, and continuing until now. From about 2,000,000 total scam and cybercrime victims in 2019 to over 50,000,000 in 2020. With total losses from cybercrime of well over USD$1,000,000,000,000.00 (1 Trillion Dollars).

Key Data Points:

  • In 2019 McAfee estimated that there would be over USD$6 trillion dollars per year losses – the estimate now is USD$1 trillion in 2020, but this number could be much higher
  • By the end of 2019, SCARS estimated that there were 15,000,000 total relationship scam victims worldwide
  • But in 2020 alone, there was an estimated 30,000,000 scam and cybercrime victims in the U.S. alone, with 5 million WhatsApp scam victims in just Brazil.
  • Global scamming exploded in 2020 and is continuing.

This is somewhat confusing as previous estimates from the cybersecurity industry indicated that we would be at nearly $6 trillion by this point – this is a number widely shared, but is now in doubt. Going forward, we will use the more conservative estimate of $1 trillion as provided by McAfee

We are expecting there to be about the same number of victims as there were in 2021, but the financial losses to increase by as much as 50% mostly due to increases in ransomware this year (2021). This can make the total losses this year 2021 to over $2 trillion dollars – may be much higher.

These numbers are bigger than the GDP of most countries.

The problem with estimating is that we now know that less than 1% of victims report these crimes. All governments are in the dark on the actual numbers of victims and the monetary losses. This makes it impossible to provide accurate analysis, and it also prevents governments around the world from dedicating the resources necessary to combat this. While victims are not to blame for being scammed, their failure to report these crimes has allowed scammers and cybercriminals almost free reign to victimize record numbers of new victims.

The Good News

The good news is that worldwide arrests continue to rise significantly. We estimate that global arrests of cybercriminals (including scammers) will be over 100,000 again, and that this is nearly 300,000 over the last 3 years!

  • Nigeria is doing very well and will hit new records for them, maybe up to 4,000 – but they still have a million to go.
  • In the U.S. arrest levels are at an all-time high too.
  • Europe and Asia are expected to be the same.
  • China is the world leader in arrests, averaging around 30,000 a year for the last 3 years.

Money Mules

The significant expansion of money mules continued in 2020, and now into 2021.

  • But the bad news is about mules. The number of new mules in 2020 grew by 10,000%. Law enforcement is starting to get very intolerant about this.
  • The banking industry in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe are talking about lifetime banking bans if someone engages in money laundering.
  • The US IRS is talking a very hard line on taxes on money laundering. Existing money mules need to get their financial situation resolved before the IRS shows up.
  • Even regular scam victims can face significant tax penalties when liquidating their retirement accounts. They should be consulting tax attorneys if they lost more than USD$10,000
  • And arrests of money mules will hit new records too – possibly as high as 10,000 this year. Though this is not likely for money mules that self-report and cooperate with law enforcement.

Romance Scam Victims

The number of romance scam victims exploded in 2020. The minimum number of new victims was well above 5 million, from about 650,000 in 2019. We have never seen these kinds of numbers before. The previous largest, based upon estimates was about 1,000,000 in 2016.

But there is very bad news in this.

  1. Reporting is at an all-time low. Less than 1% of victims are reporting these crimes. So governments are mostly clueless of the real numbers.
  2. Participation in anti-scam groups overall looks to be static. The total number of anti-scam groups is not changing much, and their membership load is about the same. Unfortunately, the majority of these groups are not helping victims – either by increasing trauma or by presenting urban legends and vastly outdated information
  3. The number of scammer-run anti-scam groups is growing as a percentage of all such groups. Victims continue to flock to these groups never bothering to verify if the group is even real.

Meaning as a percentage, fewer victims are getting help.

The type of romance scam has changed too. There is much more use of the romance that then becomes an investment scam model now. One estimate is that it is about 65% of all romance scams in 2021 – we are not sure of the percentage, but we believe it is above half.

We understand why scammers are doing this, since starting the romance is easy, then offering an investment becomes even easier than the old money in a box or emergency storylines. It is very understandable why this is.

More bad news

Only about 15-20% of the population online seems to get or understand these issues. The general population hears about scams but believes that it will never happen to them.

Over 80% of users do almost nothing to secure their lives, their accounts, and they even use the same passwords for most of their accounts. Less than 3% use 2FA. This remains mostly unchanged. After all the cybersecurity and password awareness, most people are not listening.

This means scammers do not have to work very hard. People make it easy for them.

All forms of cyber-awareness education have failed. More people are aware, but they are not doing anything to really change. Even in the corporate space, companies do not want to spend what is needed to be secure. It is a miracle that whole countries have not been shut down because of cybercrime.
In 2021 we had the first direct death due to cybercrime when ransomware was launched against a hospital in the U.S.

Data breaches continue with no end in sight. A simple reality is that almost everyone online has had their information stolen. Governments, especially the current U.S. government seems to be only really concerned about their own infrastructure.

Some Good News

Europe and the UK understand the issues better than any other country. They are moving forward with continuous sweeping changes.

Even Facebook knows this and they tried to pull a sleight-of-hand trick by changing their name due to the regulation coming soon to social media. In the UK corporate manslaughter is a real thing, and companies that are negligent can face it. So they are beginning to distance themselves from their social media brands and companies. Let us hope that the regulators see through this ploy.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has moved to the back of the bus and is almost totally focused on protecting government IT systems and infrastructure. Individual victims are not the concern of this current administration at the executive or legislative level. But at least the FBI & DoJ is doing more and we are very thankful for that (click here to see one recent case in Texas.)


Over the next couple of years, while the pandemic remains through the end of 2022 or 2023, these numbers will not change much, but they are unlikely to get worse – though if there are increases in reporting it might appear so.

UK and Europe will lead in direct action legislatively and through law enforcement. They understand that this is survival for them and their economies.

Law enforcement is quickly finding that fraud & cybercrime are becoming half of all crimes, and will be reorganizing to meet these challenges – except in the US.

In the US, we lost the legislative lead with the last election, and in fact, took many steps backward as the initiatives of the previous president were undone by this one. We will not see any significant leadership in the US until after the next congressional elections in 2022 or possibly the presidential election in 2024

China has become the world leader in cybercrime. The government of the PRC is very aggressive about addressing cybercrime against its own people, but not so much when it is exported. This is why we are seeing an explosion in Asia right now.

The professionalism and ease of entry for cybercriminals is expanding rapidly. Investing a small amount of money to buy tools and services can result in unbelievable rewards. And while the risk of arrest is very low, it means cybercriminals will continue without fear.

However, we are also hearing the corporations are considering more direct private action against cybercriminals. With losses in the tens or hundreds of millions for some of these corporate victims, it does not take much money to send operatives to take direct action.

The Victims

Victims continue to be the biggest challenge. The scam avoidance messaging is not working and record numbers of new victims are being seen.

Scam victims still refuse to report these crimes to their police and governments, giving scammers a free pass. In the end, this is the single greatest contributor to the growth of online scams and cybercrime. Access to tools has helped a lot, but ignorant governments cannot effectively fight these crimes.

Overall, few victims are finding effective support and recovery services. One estimate has it that by the end of 2022, a full 50% of the psychologists in the U.S. will be treating traumatized relationship scam victims. Unfortunately, relationship scam victims largely continue in denial about the nature of their trauma or even if they are traumatized. This means that the majority of all scam victims will carry this trauma forward through the remainder of their lives.

All we can do, at organizations like SCARS is continue to pick up the pieces and help those who have become the victims. But even so, only 1 in 3 victims will stick with a recovery program and come out the other end with moderate recovery.

I personally wished that the news was better, but no one can save those that will not listen or conform to society’s needs.

Tim McGuinness, Ph.D.
Managing Director and Founder
Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

-/ 30 /-

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