The Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, had received dozens of complaints about a St. Louis woman who was selling what she claimed were designer handbags. Buyers spent as much as $100,000 for a single bag, but ended up with either knock-off bags or sometimes nothing at all…and the woman refused to refund their money. The IC3 forwarded the complaints to the St. Louis FBI Field Office, and after an investigation, the woman was charged with selling counterfeit goods and ultimately pled guilty last year.
This case is an example of the effectiveness of the IC3—a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. Submissions to this central hub for Internet-related crime complaints can not only lead to culprits getting caught, but also help identify trends that are then posted on the IC3’s website to educate the public about constantly evolving cyber threats and scams.
Today, as part of its ongoing education and prevention mission, the IC3 released its latest annual snapshot of online crime and fraud—the 2012 Internet Crime Report. While there is no end to the variety of cyber scams, the report highlights some of the most frequent ones from 2012. Here are a few examples of what to look for to help keep you from being victimized:
Auto fraud: Criminals attempt to sell vehicles that they really don’t own, usually advertising them on various online platforms at prices below market value. Often the fraudsters claim they must sell the vehicles quickly because they are relocating for work, are being deployed by the military, or have a tragic family circumstance and are in need of money. And in a new twist, criminals are posing as dealers rather than individual sellers.
FBI impersonation e-mail scam: The names of various government agencies and government officials have been used in spam attacks for some time, and complaints related to spam e-mail purportedly sent by the FBI continue to be reported with high frequency. These scams, which include elements of Nigerian scam letters, incorporate get-rich inheritance scenarios, bogus lottery winning notifications, and occasional extortion threats.
Intimidation/extortion scams: More popular ones involve payday loan scams (harassing phone calls to victims claiming they are delinquent on loan payments); process server scams (a supposed process server shows up at a victim’s house or place of employment but is willing to take a debit card number for payment in order to avoid court); and grandparent scams (fraudsters contacting elderly victims pretending to be a young family member in some sort of legal or financial crisis).
Scareware/ransomware: There are different variations of these scams, but one involves victims receiving pop-up messages on their computers alerting them to purported infections that can only be fixed by purchasing particular antivirus software. Another involves malware that freezes victims’ computers and displays a warning of a violation of U.S. law and directions to pay a fine to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Read more on these and other scams—as well as online crime prevention tips—in the IC3’s latest report. An educated consumer is the most effective weapon against Internet fraudsters.
– The IC3 received nearly 290,000 complaints from victims.
– Dollar losses arising from the 2012 complaints totaled almost $525.5 million.
– Most complaints came from the U.S., but some were sent from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and other countries.
– California had the highest percentage of complaints (13.41), followed by Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, and Washington.
– Victims who reported losing money lost an average of nearly $4,600.
– More than 82 percent of complainants were ages 20-50, while 14 percent were 60 and over, and just over 3 percent were under the age of 20.
– Be suspicious if the seller only accepts wire transfers or cash.
– If purchasing merchandise, ensure it is from a reputable source.
– Be wary of businesses that operate from P.O. boxes or mail drops.
– If you receive an unsolicited e-mail, be very cautious when responding to offers and giving out personal or financial information. Also, do not click on the links in these e-mails; instead, go directly to the organization’s official website.