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Internet Crime Cost Consumers More Than A Half-Billion Dollars Last Year

Number of cases reported by consumers to FBI-partnered Internet Crime Complaint Center increased by nearly 10 percent last year, with scams in auto fraud, FBI impersonation via email, extortion at the top of the list

Consumers lost an average of $1,800 last year in Internet crimes and a total of $535 million overall, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center's (IC3) annual report on consumer complaints it received in 2012.

IC3, a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, received 289,874 consumer complaints, 40% of which reported financial losses. That was an 8.3 increase in the total number of complaints from 2011. The median dollar loss for consumers who reported financial loss to the IC3 was $600, and the average dollar loss for those who reported financial loss was $4,573.

The states where consumers reported crime most were California (13.41 percent), Florida (7.9 percent), Texas (7.22 percent), and New York (5.7 percent).

Auto scams -- mainly fraudulent vehicle sales -- were the most commonly reported Internet crime, in 17,000 of the cases, incurring $65 million in losses. The victim is typically duped into sending full or partial payment for a vehicle via a wire transfer service, and never gets the car. "In a new twist, the criminals have attempted to pose as dealers instead of individuals selling a single car. This allows them to advertise multiple vehicles for sale at one time on certain platforms, potentially exposing more victims to the scam," the IC3 says in its report.

Scammers posing as the FBI in emails were big last year, too: The IC3 says it received 47 complaints per day from consumers about these types of scams, with a total of 14,141 complaints and $4.7 million in losses. Victims lost about $6,604 each day to this crime.

Other Internet crime scams reported to the IC3 last year were intimidation/extortion phone calls and hit man/extortion scams via email, which have evolved to use social media and other online intelligence-gathering to learn more about the victim and make the scam more customized and believable. The e-mails include threats to assassinate recipients or their family members, for example, unless they pay $8,000. There were 1,354 hit man/extortion email complaints last year, resulting in $1.9 million in losses.

Ransomware and scareware scams were reported 1,969 times, with $1.3 million in losses. The newest twist to ransomware: using the IC3's name in the attacks: "the victims' computers are hijacked, and a screen displays a warning of federal law violations. The victims are instructed to pay a fine to unlock their computers using prepaid money card services. If they do not comply in a specified time frame, they are told they could face prosecution," the report says.

Real estate scams use social media, phone calls, and emails to scam victims out of money for phony real estate deals, and romance scams were still hot last year, with 4,467 cases reported to the IC3 and losses of more than $55 million.

"Perpetrators use the promise of love and romance to entice and manipulate online victims. A perpetrator scouts the Internet for victims, often finding them in chat rooms, on dating sites and even within social media networks. These individuals seduce victims with small gifts, poetry, claims of common interest or the promise of constant companionship. Once the scammers gain the trust of their victims, they request money, ask victims to receive packages and reship them overseas or seek other favors," the IC3 report says.

The full IC3 2012 Internet Crime Report is available here (PDF) for download.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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