The massive growth of online crime is clearly illustrated in the FBI’s annual report on cybercrime in the US.
The 2009 Internet Crime Report shows that last year, 336,655 complaints were received by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a 22.3% increase compared to 2008.
The vast majority of referred cases contained elements of fraud and involved a financial loss by the complainant. The total dollar loss from all referred cases was $US559.7 million (the 2008 total was $264.6 million).
Complaints received by IC3 cover many different fraud and non-fraud categories, including auction fraud, non-delivery of merchandise, credit card fraud, computer intrusions, spam/unsolicited email, and child pornography. Most of reported perpetrators (65.4%) were from the United States. A number of perpetrators were also in the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Canada, Malaysia and Ghana.
Popular scam trends for 2009 included hitman scams (emails telling the recipient their life is in danger and demanding payment to avert it), astrological reading frauds, economic scams, job site scams, and fake pop-up ads for anti-virus software.
National White Collar Crime Center Director Donald Brackman said the report’s findings underscore the threat posed by cyber criminals. “The figures contained in this report indicate that criminals are continuing to take full advantage of the anonymity afforded them by the internet,” he said. “They are also developing increasingly sophisticated means of defrauding unsuspecting consumers. Internet crime is evolving in ways we couldn’t have imagined just five years ago.”
Apart from hitman scams, mentioned above, the most popular internet scams of 2009 were:
Economic Stimulus Scam
The victim receives an unsolicited phone call (in the US the voice sounds like Barack Obama) discussing alleged government funds available for those who apply. Victims are warned that
the offer is only available for a limited time and are instructed to visit certain Web sites 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. Upon completion of an online application and payment of $28 in fees, victims are guaranteed to receive a large sum of stimulus money, but they never do.
Job Site Scam
With work-at-home scams, 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. Victims are sometimes scammed into cashing cheques or money orders that they receive; then redistributing a portion of the funds by way of their personal cheque, cash, money orders, or wire transfers to a third party.
Fraudsters post ads for participation in a survey regarding employee/employer relationships during the current economic crisis. Those who apply are required to send a copy of their payroll cheque as proof of employment. After sending the copy, the victim never hears from the fraudster again; however, the employer’s account is drained of thousands of dollars by way of fraudulent checks.
Fake pop-up ads for anti-virus software
Victims reportedly receive ads warning them of the existence of threatening viruses and/or illegal content allegedly found on the victim’s computer. When victims click on the fake pop-ups, malicious code is downloaded onto their computers. Victims are directed to purchase anti-virus software to repair their computers, but in some instances malware was downloaded instead.
Astrological Reading Scam
The victim receives spam or pop-up messages offering free astrological readings. The victim must provide his/her birth date and birth location to receive a free reading. After receiving the reading, the victim is enticed to purchase a full reading with the promise that something favourable is about to happen. The victim pays for the full reading but never receives it, The ‘Professional Astrologer’ who delivered the reading is no longer able to be contacted, and emails are returned as undeliverable.