Online Scams Up, Credit Card Hacks Down

Consumers face a rising threat of online rip-offs, but they may be worried about the wrong thing.

In a report released Friday, Deutsche Bank analyst Jeetil Patel says that while credit card security tends to get plenty of attention, it’s a relatively small part of the problem.

There were 75,000 complaints to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), a 50 percent increase from 2001. The IFCC is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center that lets people file fraud complaints online; the IFCC then refers them to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. Deutsche Bank estimates that the growth in IFCC complaints outpaced Internet user growth in 2002 by almost a two-to-one margin.

Auction fraud rose to 46 percent of all complaints, according to the IFCC, while e-commerce complaints increased to 31 percent. However, Deutsche points out, the majority of e-commerce snafu revolved around the actual exchange of money and goods. Consumer credit or debit card info falling into the wrong hands accounted for only 12 percent of IFCC complaints, down from 28 percent in 2001.

Moreover, Deutsche says the damage caused by credit card theft is over-rated: While the average loss per IFCC complaint of credit card fraud was $120, bad guys made much more money off identify, check and confidence schemes, with the top scam, the Nigerian letter, raking in an average of $3,864 per scam.

Consumers seem to be getting the message. A survey done late in 2002 by Mastercard International found that while 61 percent of the 1000 Internet users surveyed worried about hackers getting their credit card numbers, that concern was far surpassed by privacy concerns — a worry to 91 percent of respondents.

The increase in person-to-person fraud during online auctions could be good news for established online retailers.

“We believe that the existence of e-commerce and auction fraud on the Internet may lead some online shoppers to familiar (and trusted) suppliers and brands,” Deutsche says. “We believe that companies, such as Amazon, having established a reputable trust with its customers, will continue to represent a secure shopping destination for these users.”

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