Most introduced species apparently have little impact on native biodiversity, but the proliferation of human vectors that transport species worldwide increases the probability of a region being affected by high-impact invaders – i.e. those that cause severe declines in native species populations. Our study determined whether the number of high-impact invaders can be predicted from the total number of invaders in an area, after controlling for species–area effects. These two variables are positively correlated in a set of 16 invaded freshwater and marine systems from around the world. The relationship is a simple linear function; there is no evidence of synergistic or antagonistic effects of invaders across systems. A similar relationship is found for introduced freshwater fishes across 149 regions. In both data sets, high-impact invaders comprise approximately 10% of the total number of invaders. Although the mechanism driving this correlation is likely a sampling effect, it is not simply the proportional sampling of a constant number of repeat-offenders; in most cases, an invader is not reported to have strong impacts on native species in the majority of regions it invades. These findings link vector activity and the negative impacts of introduced species on biodiversity, and thus justify management efforts to reduce invasion rates even where numerous invasions have already occurred.