WASHINGTON – Losses from cybercrime and online scams more than doubled in 2009 to 559 million dollars as Internet criminals used more sophisticated techniques, an FBI-led task force said Friday.
The report from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), said losses in the United States linked to online fraud shot up 110 percent from 265 million in 2008, when losses were up just 11 percent.
"The figures contained in this report indicate that criminals are continuing to take full advantage of the anonymity afforded them by the Internet," said Donald Brackman, director of the National White Collar Crime Center, which runs the IC3 with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"They are also developing increasingly sophisticated means of defrauding unsuspecting consumers. Internet crime is evolving in ways we couldn't have imagined just five years ago."
Of those complaints reporting monetary loss that were referred to law enforcement, the average loss was 5,580 dollars and the median loss was 575 dollars. This reflects a small number of cases in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were reported to have been lost by the complainant.
One of the newest schemes is a variant of the "hitman scam" which has been used for several years to extort money. A victim receives an email from a member of an organization such as the "Ishmael Ghost Islamic Group" claiming to have a mission to assassinate the person but offering a pardon if money is wired to the scammer.
A familiar scam which has resurfaced offers free astrological readings to persons who provide their birth date and birth location.
These schemes and others such as phony anti-virus software are often tied to identity theft, which is one of the biggest categories, accounting for 14 percent of losses.
Non-delivery of items bought on the Internet was the biggest source of fraud, accounting for 19 percent of losses, and credit card and auction fraud each accounted for 10 percent.
Advance fee fraud -- which includes the so-called Nigerian bank scheme in which a person is asked to wire funds to receive a large sum of money -- remained a major problem, representing 9.8 percent of complaints.
Overall complaints to the center rose 22 percent to 336,655 in 2009.
FBI officials said the surge in online fraud highlights the need for increased consumer vigilance.
"Law enforcement relies on the corporate sector and citizens to report when they encounter on-line suspicious activity so these schemes can be investigated and criminals can be arrested," said Peter Trahon, section chief of the FBI's Cyber Division.
"Computer users are encouraged to have up-to-date security protection on their devices and evaluate email solicitations they receive with a healthy skepticism -- if something seems too good to be true, it likely is."
© AFP 2013