Tags: fbi | internet | crime

Consumers Lose Record Sums to Internet Crooks

Thursday, 03 Apr 2008 10:35 PM

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Fewer Americans fell for Internet fraudsters last year but those who did parted with a record 239.09 million dollars, an annual report by the FBI said Thursday.

Just under 207,000 complaints of online fraud were reported to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2007, down from 207,492 complaints the previous year and more than 231,000 in 2005, the report said.

But the total dollar loss to the fraudsters was 239.09 million dollars in 2007, up from 198.44 million in 2006, the report said.

"We're seeing more schemes involving bigger ticket items, get-rich-quick and work-at-home schemes that involve higher dollar losses," FBI special agent John Hambrick, who is in charge of the IC3 unit, told AFP.

"But I'm optimistic that people are starting to catch on to some of these scams and we will continue to try to educate them to the dangers of Internet fraud," he said, commenting on the decrease in the number of victims of online crime.

The preferred method of ensnaring a victim online was through spam email, the source of 75 percent of Internet scams, the report said.

"A cyber criminal is only looking for a less than one percent return on all the emails he sends out, and he can still make money hand over fist," said Hambrick.

Most of the victims of online fraudsters were men -- 75 percent -- and they lost more money per victim than women to Internet criminals.

That's not because they are more gullible but because they are more likely to purchase the so-called "big ticket" items such as televisions online, said Hambrick.

Just over 40 percent of complaints received last year by the IC3 involved monetary losses of between 100 and 1,000 dollars.

Twelve percent concerned losses of between 5,000 and 100,000 dollars, and a hapless 0.4 percent of complainants said they had been defrauded of more than 100,000 dollars.

Sometimes, the fraudsters played on human weaknesses besides money, such as the desire for a pet or romance, the report said.

"You see an ad selling a pet and send in your money, plus a little extra for delivery costs. But you never get the pet; the scam artist simply takes your money and runs," the report said.

"Online dating and social networking sites also have figured prominently in scams reported to the IC3," it said.

"After meeting someone at one of these sites, the fraudster tries to gain a person's trust through false displays of affection. In most cases, the fraudster lives far away ... The fraudster expresses an ardent desire to visit the person but cannot afford to make the trip.

"The fraudster convinces the victim to send money to cover his travel expenses. Then, invariably, an unforeseen event (often an accident of some sort) prevents the fraudster from making the trip."

More than three-quarters of the perpetrators of Internet crimes were male.

They tended to live in populous states in the United States, such as California, Florida, and New York, or in Britain, Canada, Italy, Nigeria -- which has a well-known scam letter and email named after it -- and Romania, the report said.

"Interstate and international boundaries are irrelevant to Internet criminals," it warned.

"Anyone who utilizes the Internet is susceptible, and IC3 has received complaints from both males and females ranging in age from 10 to 100 years old."

Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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