The cat and mouse game between international law enforcers and technology-savvy criminals perpetrating scams on the Internet continues to rage around the world, with the latest figures showing the number of victims and the amount of money they lose is on the rise.
A report analyzing Internet crime last year, put out by a US-based alliance of experts including the FBI, found that the number of complaints from victims of cyber crime has gone up by almost a third since 2007. The total number reached 275,284, amounting to US$265 million in money lost.
The year’s most popular scam involved goods being sold on the Internet and simply not delivered. Other top ruses included the fleecing of individuals through fraudulent auctions on eBay and other Web sites, credit and debit card fraud and the ubiquitous Nigerian confidence trick.
The report was compiled by the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. It helps law agencies keep up with the ever-morphing world of cyber crime, where new scams arise and transform at lightning speed.
The US is both home to, and victim of, the lion’s share of fraud. Two out of every three of the recorded perpetrators of the crimes came from the US and so did 93 percent of complainants.
They tended to come from the west and east coasts, as well as Texas and Florida, where Internet sophistication is proportionately concentrated.
Internationally, the UK came second in the league table of perpetrators, with 10 percent registered there. The relative prevalence of the UK might also be a reflection of the high concentration of tech-savvy people, though several scams also use London as a base from which to contact and meet victims.
The report said men are the most gullible — with 55 percent of the victims being male, nearly half aged between 30 and 50. Men also tended to lose more money to scam artists than women, in a ratio of US$1.69 lost per male to every US$1 lost per female — though that may be more a reflection of the relative cost of the goods men buy on the Web.
The median figure for the amount of money lost by each victim was almost US$1,000, underlining the pain that falling for such tricks can cause.
Overall, law enforcers will be disappointed that the gradual decline in complaints that had been seen in the past two years, down to 206,884, has been reversed.
Leslie Hoppey, an FBI cyber crime expert, said this sort of fraud would always be around.
“But people can protect themselves through basic guidelines: Don’t respond to unsolicited e-mails, be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as officials and don’t click on links.”