As hackers and the technology they need to wreak online havoc get smarter, more people are falling victim to cybercrimes, including in the Palmetto State. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced in mid-September it saw the highest number of cybercrime complaints since 2000, and the most money lost.

The trend holds true in South Carolina, where 4,541 citizens reported an attack in 2019, a record since at least 2010. All told, the illegal activity cost victims across the state a combined $20.2 million.  The FBI ranked South Carolina 25th based on its volume of complaints last year.

Across the country, most victims were lured into phishing attacks, where a criminal pretends to be someone they’re not, often by email or text. Hacks into business email accounts caused the biggest losses — $1.8 billion. 

Along with the FBI’s announcement, Donna Gregory, chief of its Internet Crime Complaint Center, said the perpetrators are running the same playbook of scams they have in past years, but the scams are becoming trickier to spot.

“Criminals are getting so sophisticated,” she said in a statement. “It is getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake.”

Password managers such as LastPass or Dashlane offer some of their services up for free to help deter  cybercriminals, and allow users to generate and log secure passwords. The S.C. Department of Revenue also suggested keeping security up-to-date, deleting emails and texts from unknown senders and refraining from using vulnerable public Wi-Fi hotspots. 

Cyber threats are also increasingly affecting businesses.

Just last week, publicly traded Universal Health Services, headquartered in Pennsylvania, acknowledged computers at hundreds of its medical centers across the United States were knocked offline. In South Carolina, most of the facilities the company owns are behavioral health clinics, including Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health in North Charleston. It also owns the Aiken Regional Medical Center

We’re starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us – it’s free.

And in mid-September, health care systems Roper St. Francis and the Medical University of South Carolina reported losing thousands of people’s information in a ransomware attack targeting one of their shared contractors, Daniel Island-based Blackbaud Inc.

Blackbaud manages many nonprofits’ donor databases. Roper St. Francis disclosed 93,000 people were affected; MUSC reported the information of 55,000 people could have been lost. 

Next generation 911

A New York communications technology company said it has secured a contract worth $54 million with South Carolina to improve the state’s 911 service. 

The deal calls for Comtech Telecommunications Corp. to develop a next-generation system all citizens can use. 

Original 911 systems were built on analog technologies, and each state is having to address the need to update them. In South Carolina, the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office formed a committee to look into the issue and seek out a contractor over the summer.

In a call with investors Tuesday, Comtech chief operating officer Michael Porcelain said the COVID-19 pandemic has strained the budgets of many states and municipalities. But he held up South Carolina as an example of a state that is increasing its funding in this area and “recognizing the critical importance of upgrading their 911 systems.”

The company says it handles roughly 5 million 911 calls and texts each month.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.