Who do you call when you experience cybercrime? It’s not always something within any regular 911 center’s jurisdiction, and the rising frequency of cyberbullying and scams justify the need for a new text hotline, created by Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW).
Supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, a Victims of Crime grant, and local 911 operators, this program will give those affected with digital scams or bullying the option to report these instances by texting 898-211, typing “CYBER” and your Zip Code, and then following the prompts to receive the resources you need.
Identity theft, financial scams, fraud, phishing, stalking, or seriously tricking anyone online all constitute variations of cybercrime. These types of situations target vulnerable populations who often have limited ways to recover after experiencing cybercrime.
The service is in partnership with the Educational Message Services (EMS)/PreventionPays Text and the 211 National Text Platform Steering Committee.
With stimulus checks, coronavirus vaccines, and unemployment all being hot topics these days, cybercriminals have found a broad market of people to scam. Florida comes in as the state with the third most amount of money lost due to fraud – and these are only the ones who get caught.
“United Way exists to fight for the wellbeing of our residents. With the national increase in cyberattacks surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine, unemployment, social security, stimulus check frauds – amongst others – that put our already vulnerable population at-risk of losing more money, this platform is certainly a valuable link to resources and necessary help through their phones,” said HFUW president and CEO Jeff Hayward. “Lengthy internet searches are in the past. Suffering from cybercrime without support is something no one should ever have to endure.”
In 2020 alone, the United States experienced more than 1.3 million reports of identity theft. Closely following are scams involving fake online stores and imposters with over 850,000 reports. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “Just over a third of all consumers who filed a fraud report with the FTC – 34% – reported losing money, up from just 23% in 2019.” Reports involving fraud rack up about $3.3 billion in financial losses in 2020.
Cybercrime is prevalent and rising every day. By way of a texting platform that can refer victims to helpful resources and assistance, HFUW hopes to dramatically decrease the number of cybercrimes with each coming year. 911 operators in the area are trained in referring people to the non-emergency cybercrime platform to avoid any interruptions in service.
“Every day, hundreds of people across Central Florida turn to 211 for information and support – and it’s become even more heightened during the pandemic,” Hayward said. “Residents can now text 898-211 nationally to be connected with the tools and resources needed to help victims report and recover from cybercrime while also educating them on cybercrime prevention practices and tips from anywhere in the country.”
Victims may contact the 211 support line through a phone call or by texting 898-211 from anywhere. It is the first call center of its kind in Florida and the third one in the country.
“Cybercrime Support Network is proud to be a resource for individuals and small businesses impacted by cybercrime,” said Cybercrime Support Network president and CEO Kristin Judge. “We are grateful to Heart of Florida United Way 211 for helping connect people nationally with resources to assist with reporting and recovery.”