Internet Crime Complaints Soared 33% in 2008

Complaints about cyber crimes and Internet fraud saw a dramatic spike in 2008, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

The IC3, a partnership between the FBI and the nonprofit White Collar Crime Center, maintains a Web site where victims of Internet fraud can lodge complaints, this week reporting a 33 percent spike in the number of complaints received last year compared to 2007, largely driven by fraud related to e-commerce.

The group estimates that the 275,284 complaints received in 2008 translated into a net loss of $265 million, for an average of $931 per complaint.

“Sophisticated computer fraud schemes continue to flourish as financial data migrates to the Internet,” Shawn Henry, assistant director in the FBI’s cyber division, said in a statement. “It also underscores the need for continued vigilance on the part of law enforcement, businesses, and the home computer user to be aware of these schemes and employ sound security procedures.”

The IC3 maintains a large database of complaints it receives, ranging from a scam e-mail to threats against critical pieces of the country’s digital infrastructure. The group looks for patterns in the complaints and sends the information it collects out to law enforcement.

Last year, nearly 60 percent of the complaints IC3 received were from online buyers and sellers who said they didn’t receive the merchandise or payment, or from victims of auction fraud.

Farther down on the list were scams like credit card and check fraud, confidence schemes, and so-called 419 scams, in which a fraudster offers a share of a multimillion-dollar sum if the target can pay them a small, advance fee to help them move the money out of their country. The con is named after the 4.1.9 section of the penal code of Nigeria, where many such scams historically have originated.

Check fraud accounted for the largest average loss at $3,000 per complaint.

The group reported that half the culprits hailed from California, New York, Texas, Florida, Washington or the District of Columbia. On a per capita basis, D.C. had the largest number of perpetrators, followed closely by Nevada.

Nearly two thirds of the fraudsters resided inside the United States. Of those from other countries, significant portions were found in the United Kingdom, Nigeria and Canada. Additionally, the study found that nearly all — 77 percent of the perpetrators — were male.

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