March 13, 2010

Cybercrime Losses Up Drastically In 2009

Online scams and other types of cybercrime cost computer users more than $559 million in losses in 2009, said an FBI-led task force on Friday.

A report filed by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) said losses in the United States linked to online fraud increased by 110 percent from 2008, when losses were up only 11 percent from the previous year.

Donald Brackman, director of the National White Collar Crime Center, which runs the IC3 with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said the report indicated that criminals continued to "take advantage of the anonymity afforded them by the Internet."

"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," he added.

The average monetary loss of complainants that reported scams to law enforcement was about 5,580 dollars, while the median loss was 575 dollars. This reflects only a small number of cases in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were reported to have been lost by the complainants.

The biggest source of fraud came from items that were bought online and never delivered, accounting for 19 percent of losses. Phony anti-virus software purchases that often lead to identity theft accounted for 14 percent of losses. Credit card and auction fraud was about 10 percent.

Other scams that were common were free astrological readings to persons who provided their birth date and location. A newer and quite popular scam is a variant of the "hitman scam" which has been used for years to extort money. The victim gets an email from a member of a group claiming to have a mission to assassinate the person, but offers a pardon if money is wired to the scammer.

Nearly 10 percent of losses also came from advance fee scams in which a person is asked to wire funds to receive a large sum of money, such as from a lottery, sweepstakes or inheritance.

FBI officials said increased consumer vigilance is needed due to the massive surge in online fraud. "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."


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