Internet Crime Rises With Economic Downturn

The volume of Internet crime has continued to rise steadily since 2007, with victims reporting $559 million in losses in 2009, a 110 percent increase compared to losses in 2008. Investigators and officials say part of the reason may be the economic downturn and a rise in investment and employment-opportunity scams.

Officials of the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, released their annual report on Iinternet crime Friday. It showed that 336,655 complaints were filed in 2009 -- a 22 percent increase over the number of complaints in 2008.

Stolen Identity

Total losses in 2008 were $264.6 million.

"There's been a higher percent of large-dollar cases." said John Kane, the research manager at the National White Collar Crime Center.

Noting the economic downturn, the report highlighted cases of unsolicited phone calls directing people to fraudulent Web sites to register for stimulus funds.

"The recorded voice message reportedly sounds very much like President Barrack Obama discussing alleged government funds available for those who apply," it said.

"Victims are warned that the offer is only available for a limited time and are instructed to visit the Web sites or to receive their money. These sites require victims to enter personal identifying information after which they are directed to a second page to receive notification of eligibility."

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'Make Big Money at Home!'

Other scams that have increased include work-at-home scams where "victims fall prey to fraudulent postings for a variety of positions, ranging from personnel managers to secret shoppers. Victims are lured into providing the fraudster with personal identifying information with promises of above average hourly wages or several hundred dollars per week. Some victims are promised the hardware and/or software equipment needed to perform the job."

The scams are so intricate that victims are sometimes sent personal checks and money orders and are later asked to distribute a personal check from their bank account to a third party so the scammers can obtain banking information.

Of the 336,655 complaints filed in 2009, over 146,000 cases were referred to local, state, and federal law enforcement for potential investigations.

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Internet Scams Rose as Economy Fell

"Non-delivered merchandise and/or payment represents the offense that was most referred to law enforcement, followed by identity theft and credit card fraud," said the report. The report does not include information on how many cases have been referred to prosecutions or are resolved.

Peter Trahon, section chief of the FBI's Cyber Division, said in a statement, "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."

The report notes that the highest percentage of complaints, over 16 percent of the cases, sent to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center involve scams reported to be sent from the FBI asking for personal information. Officials have seen an increase in the past several years in the number of phishing or spoof e-mails that look as if they are coming from a U.S. government e-mail address with a .gov address in the email. Internet users have even received hoax e-mails claiming to come from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

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