FBI: Online Scams Doubled in 2009

Stephen Yagielowicz
WASHINGTON — Call it a sign of the down economy, but according to recently released FBI statistics, losses from online fraud doubled last year over the previous year.

On January 1, 2009, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) launched a new classification system that categorizes fraud reports into 79 offense-based categories. According to the IC3 report, its website received 336,655 complaint submissions from January 1 through December 31, 2009 — a figure that represents a 22.3 percent increase over the 275,284 complaints received in 2008.

Of the complaints submitted to IC3 last year, 146,663 were then sent to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies for further consideration.

The report states that the vast majority of referred cases contained elements of fraud and involved an average $575 financial loss by the complainant. The total dollar loss from all cases was a reported $559.7 million — nearly double the $264.6 million reported in 2008.

Complaint submissions that were not tagged for further action generally involved cases in which there was no documented loss — for example, a complainant receives a fraudulent email and reports it without acting upon it. Other non-referred cases involve complainants or perpetrators that do not reside within the United States; so no appropriate domestic law enforcement agency is available to refer the case.

Highlights of the report include findings that email swindles where criminals use the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) name in an effort to gain information represented 16.6 percent of all complaints. Non-delivered merchandise or payments account for nearly 12 percent of complaints, while advance fee frauds where the target is asked to pay money upfront for an award, for example, made up nearly 10 percent of complaints.

Identity theft and overpayment fraud in which victims receive a fraudulent monetary instrument covering more than a transaction's agreed-upon amount, along with a request to return the overpayment using a legitimate monetary instrument, round out 2009's top five complaint categories.

According to the Bureau, complaints received by IC3 cover many different fraud and non-fraud categories, including auction fraud, non-delivery of merchandise, credit card fraud, computer intrusions, spam/unsolicited email, and child pornography. Other popular scams include hitman scams, astrological reading frauds, economic scams, job site scams, and fake pop-up ads for antivirus software.

Of those complainants providing personal data, 76.6 percent were male, and half reside in California, Florida, New York, the District of Columbia, Texas, or Washington. Nearly two-thirds were between the ages of 30 and 50; and males lost more money than females by a ratio of $1.51 lost per male to every $1.00 lost per female.

The majority of perpetrators (65.4 percent) were identified as being from the U.S., with others coming from the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Canada, Malaysia and Ghana.

"All of these complaints are accessible to local, state, and federal law enforcement to support active investigations, trend analysis, and public outreach and awareness efforts," the report concludes.