Fraud in the financial industry grew 33.5% globally, according to a new report by TransUnion. Pictured: An online shopper uses the eBay website on May 30 in London. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for eBay)

It’s no secret that digital fraud attempts targeting online payment and financial accounts have jumped in the past two years, exacerbated by pandemic woes and a growth in e-commerce and digital financial services usage.

However, a recent study underscores that cybercriminals are also worming their way to ill-gotten gains by targeting shipping, mining consumer and business identities and phishing to access bank and credit accounts and other valued data and steal money online. The TransUnion study, the 2022 Global Digital Fraud Trends Report released Tuesday, found that financial services is one of the two industries (along with travel and leisure) worldwide seeing the greatest increase in the rate of suspected digital fraud attempts in the past two years.

In the United States, specifically, fraud attempts on financial services increased by more than 27% year over year — lower than the global growth rate of 33.5% of financial industry fraud efforts, but still enough to make it one of the five sectors to experience the greatest leap in fraudulent plays. (Gaming, travel and leisure, telecommunications and, interestingly, insurance were the other industries seeing the biggest growth in digital fraud ploys, “as consumer adoption of digital channels has continued to accelerate,” according to the TransUnion report.)

“Digital channels have become the ‘new normal’ in the financial services industry and with it, it has created new opportunities for fraudsters,” said Shai Cohen, senior vice president and global head of fraud solutions at TransUnion. “Many consumers are conducting the majority of their financial transactions online, and since this is where many consumers are spending both time and money, it makes financial institutions a prime target for fraud.”

These findings, based on TransUnion’s survey earlier this year of 12,500 adults around the world, certainly confirm what various industry experts have seen happening in the past two years as online banking and shopping have become widely embraced, even by digital laggards. Indeed, the rate for all types of digital fraud attempts worldwide rocketed up more than 52% between 2019 and 2021, according to TransUnion.

However, the report also found that so-called “shipping fraud” — where a bad actor posing as a legitimate buyer spoofs a shipping address, or a malfeasant seller collects payment for goods or services bought online, but never fulfills the purchase — is on an even more aggressive rise, according to TransUnion’s findings. The global information company, known for its consumer credit reporting, found that shipping fraud has become the “fastest growing type of digital fraud worldwide, increasing nearly 800 percent” in the past year, and more than 15 times over between 2019 and 2021.

As a result of this “new normal,” the financial, payments and retail industries have all experienced a boom in the acceptance of digital services, Cohen pointed out that “the propensity for shipping fraud has also increased.” Also related to this boost in financial interactions happening on the internet, the TransUnion report found that business identity theft (114% increase) and identity mining and phishing attempts (104%) more than doubled from 2020 to 2021. At least three out of five respondents to the TransUnion survey (62%) confessed that having their identity stolen was their greatest fear in terms of digital fraud.

And basic banking accounts and payments were not the only financially related industries that saw fraud bumped up by the rise in online usage, according to the report. One of the five most affected industries, the U.S. insurance industry, saw fraud attempts alone grow by more than 11% from 2020 to 2021; and, over the past two years, actual successful cases of identity theft among U.S. insurers — where a legitimate customer’s accounts are taken over, their data is stolen and the information is used to submit false claims — has grown a whopping 82% since 2019, according to Cohen.

While there is no way to completely eradicate fraud, or even to necessarily stem the rising tide of bad actors finding new ways to access accounts and impersonate real customers, Cohen said he believed there are steps financial institutions can take to “reduce fraud... [including] to detect suspicious patterns or attributes during the account opening and verification processes, in order to prevent fraudsters from getting in the door.”

He recommended implementing multi-layered identity solutions to “help build trust with customers and thwart these fraud tactics.”