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FBI: Cyber crime escalates in 2008

Cyber crimes hit record numbers last year, according to a new report (pdf) released today by Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). IC3, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (a Glen Allen, Va., congressionally funded nonprofit that trains law enforcement on how to investigate financial and cyber crimes), says that in 2008 it received 275,284 complaints (up 33 percent from 2007's total of 206,884) of cyber fraud, computer hacks, spam, child pornography and other online offenses—and that cyber scams costs consumers an estimated $265 million, 10 percent more than the $239.09 million reported lost in 2007.

Online transactions in which either the goods or the payment wasn't received accounted for 33 percent of complaints that the feds received last year (up 32 percent from 2007). Auction fraud (think eBay transactions gone bad) actually dipped from 28.6 percent in 2007 to 25.5 percent last year. Ponzi schemes, computer fraud, and check fraud complaints represented 19.5 percent of all IC3 complaints. Overall, fraud victims reporting average losses of $931 each.

Some 74 percent of those who contacted authorities said they had communicated with the scam artists via e-mail. Ironically, one of the year's biggest e-mail scams involved bogus e-mails, supposedly sent by the FBI, soliciting personal information, such as a bank account numbers, by falsely claiming that it needed such info to investigate an "impending financial transaction." Some of the bogus e-mails even claimed to have come directly from FBI Director Robert Mueller, Deputy Director John S. Pistole, or some other high ranking official or investigative unit within the bureau. (The report notes that the FBI does not contact U.S. citizens regarding personal financial matters through unsolicited e-mails.)

Another common scam reported to the IC3 in 2008 involved hackers who broke into personal e-mail accounts (read more on how this can be done), enabling them to send out e-mails to people in the victims' address books asking for money. Posing as the e-mail account holders, fraudsters claim that they are stranded in Nigeria (or some other country), where they were allegedly robbed and now need $1,000 or some other sum to cover hotel bills and travel expenses.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ bora ucak

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