Internet crime: Fewer users turn to the police

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A quarter of German citizens state that they have already fallen victim to cybercrime. This is the result of the Digital Barometer 2021 published on Tuesday, a representative survey on behalf of the police crime prevention of the federal states and the federal government (ProPK) and the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). The rate remains the same as in the two previous years. 38 percent of those affected stated that they had had relevant negative experiences at least once in the past twelve months.

For the study, the market research institute Ipsos Public Affairs surveyed German citizens online in April and May 2025, mainly between the ages of 14 and 69 who live in a private household with Internet access. According to the results, problems with cybercrime were predominantly encountered by young adults between the ages of 19 and 29: a third of this group experienced an incident. In contrast, only 17 percent of the 60 to 69 year olds were affected.

The most frequently discussed criminal offenses include third-party access to one’s own online account (31 percent), downloading malware (28 percent) and phishing (25 percent). The statements on fraud in online shopping have changed significantly: 36 percent of those surveyed were affected in 2019, 32 percent in the previous year, and only 19 percent in 2021.

The most common scam reported for fraud when shopping on the net is that goods are not delivered despite payment. 48 percent of those affected experienced this out loud the current analysis. Every third victim received inferior goods. In 26 percent of the cases login or account data, in 25 percent credit or account data, were misused. Only 1 percent came out as a victim of ransomware (2020: 11 percent). Other malware such as viruses or Trojans were only a problem for 4 percent, compared to 25 percent in the previous year. 3 percent were confronted with “problematic content”.

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79 percent of those affected stated that they had suffered damage from cybercrime. Last year it was around 66 percent. In contrast to 2020, this time the increased expenditure of time (29 percent) and the loss of data (27 percent) occurred regularly. 17 percent reported having lost trust in the relevant online services due to a criminal offense. Every seventh victim struggled with reputational damage. The authors explain the decrease in reported financial damage from 32 to 11 percent compared to the previous year with less fraud in online shopping. For every tenth person affected, the losses were between 20 and 2000 euros.

A change can also be seen in reactions to online crime. With 36 percent, the largest group of victims helped themselves again. However, only 29 percent reported to the police. In 2020 it was almost 35 percent. 20 percent asked friends or family for help (2020: 16 percent). It is also noticeable that younger respondents went to the police less often – only about one in five. About half of the 60 to 69 year olds turned to the prosecutors. Only a minority of three percent did not know how to react. 9 percent instead of 5 percent in the previous year paid ransom money, although the police and the BSI advise against it.

The special situation of the corona pandemic also had an impact on online crimes: in the period under review, one in five people was confronted with cybercrime in this context because they received a phishing email relating to Covid-19, for example. 39 percent have also used internet applications more frequently since the beginning of the pandemic – most of them to shop online. The elderly went online more often to keep in touch with family and friends, while the younger ones often moved to streaming services. However, the increased online activity did not make respondents feel more at risk.

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Almost every third person has also been confronted with “fake news” about Covid-19. In the case of the participants between the ages of 14 and 29, it is almost half. Recipients of such false reports feel insecure across all age groups. Around two thirds said they were able to judge whether information and sources are reliable. Around two out of five respondents have already received information that they initially believed, but which later turned out to be incorrect (44 percent).

Two thirds of the respondents know recommendations for protecting themselves from Internet threats. However, only twelve percent state that they will fully implement them. The main reasons given for the reluctance to use IT security are security recommendations that are too complicated and difficult to understand (43 percent) and too much effort (44 percent).

In comparison to the previous year, however, more known protective measures are being implemented. Most of the time, German citizens use an up-to-date virus protection program (62 percent), “secure passwords” (60 percent) and an up-to-date firewall (53 percent). In contrast, only a third consciously rely on automatic updates. Two-factor authentication is using seven percent more than in 2020, but at 40 percent it is still less than half of those surveyed. 28 percent rely on regular backups, 23 encrypt their emails, and 13 percent do without social media.

BSI Vice President Gerhard Schabhüser complained that only around half of citizens were interested in online information about cybersecurity. After a criminal offense, this changes little. He appealed to all users to “make it easy”, since the implementation of security measures afterwards usually turns out to be less complex than expected. The expert recommended using password managers, for example. Stefanie Hinz, chairwoman of the ProPK, announced a social media campaign with the BSI, “with which we want to reach young people in particular”.

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