Photo: Group-IB

Cybersecurity company Group-IB has shared its analysis of the landscape of the most widespread cyber threat in the world: scams. Accounting for 57% of all financially motivated cybercrime in 2021, the scam industry is becoming more structured and involves more and more parties divided into hierarchical groups.

The number of such groups jumped to a record high of 390, which is 3.5 times more than 2020, when the maximum number of active groups was close to 110. Due to SaaS (Scam-as-a-Service), in 2021 the number of cybercriminals in one scam gang increased 10 times compared to 2020 and now reaches 100.

The firm said in its study that traffic has become the circulatory system of scam projects; its researchers have found that the number of websites used for purchasing and providing “gray” and illegal traffic and that lure victims into fraudulent schemes has increased by 1.5 times.

“Scammers are going into 2022 on a new level of scam attack automation: no more non-targeted users. Scammers are now attracting specific groups of victims to increase conversion rates. Social media are more often becoming the first point of contact between scammers and their potential victims,” said Group -IB.

During the Digital Risk Summit 2022 online conference, which was divided into analytical and technology-related streams, Group-IB shared the findings of its research into various scam schemes, obtained with the help of neural networks and ML-based scoring systems incorporated in the Group-IB Digital Risk Protection platform, which is designed to mitigate external digital risks to intellectual property and brand identity.

Conference participants included the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC), Scamadviser, a global independent project, as well as Ebank from Egypt.

With more and more Internet users falling victim to cybercrime every day, fraudsters prefer good old techniques such as phishing (18%), scams and fraud (57%), and malware infections and reputational attacks (25%). In 2021, scams were the most common type of cybercrime.

The number of brand-impersonating scam resources created per month also increased. In the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and Europe, Group-IB analysts noted an increase of 150%, 83%, and 89% respectively.

Following hacker groups successfully attacking business and government organizations worldwide, scammers have adopted their methods to improve their schemes. Chaotic loners attract organized criminal gangs with SaaS (Scam-as-a-Service).

“A strong trend that we observed in 2021 was no-frills scammers merging into groups controlled by highly technically skilled villains,” says Ilia Rozhnov, head of Digital Risk Protection team in APAC at Group-IB.

“Group-IB’s AI-based platform identified somewhere between 75 and 110 scam groups last year, and the average number of cybercriminals per group was 10 members. The average number of scam links per group reached 100. SaaS helped grow not only fraudsters’ appetites, but also the industry itself.

“In 2021 our DRP system tracked 350 groups, reaching up to 390 scam groups at the peak time. The number of cybercriminals in fraudulent groups has increased dramatically, averaging between 100 and 1,000 per group. In turn, their infrastructure has grown proportionally: the average number of scam links per group was between 2,000 and 3,000.”

He added that scammers are now focused on attracting targeted traffic. In the past, their schemes were aimed at unsuitable users who were brought to a fraudulent resource, but since 2021 the strategy has changed drastically. Scammers now attract specific groups of victims to increase conversion rates.

The only platform for selling “gray” and illegal traffic earns on average US$2,758 per week from one offer to sell illegal traffic. The statistics showed that India, US and Vietnam are the main countries where the platform is distributed.

Group-IB also noted a strong trend towards the use of improved URL targeting: a valid one-off URL, available strictly for a particular user at a specific moment in time, targeted a specific audience, adding that fraudsters used improved content personalization with auto-completed web forms on a page with a user’s personal data, extracted from browser cookies.


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