If you did, you’re not aloneâ€”e-mail scams that misused the Bureau’s name represented the highest percentage (16.6) of complaint types submitted last year to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), according to its latest annual report.
All told, IC3 received 336,655 complaints during 2009, a hefty 22.3 percent increase from 2008.
In addition to the fake FBI e-mails, rounding out the top five complaint categories were:
- Non-delivered merchandise and or non-payment, in which either a seller didn’t ship a promised item or a buyer didn’t pay for an item (11.9 percent);
- Advance fee fraud, when a victim was asked to give money upfront, often for goods or services that never materialized (9.8 percent);
- Identity theft, when someone either stole or tried to steal a person’s identity or some kind of identity information (8.2 percent); and
- Overpayment fraud, when a “buyer” sent a victim who was selling something a legitimate-looking check or money order (that turned out to be counterfeit) for an amount greater than the price of an item being sold, and then asked the seller to deposit the payment, deduct the actual sale price, and return the difference (7.3 percent).
Of the 336,655 complaints submitted to IC3 last year, just under halfâ€”146,663â€”were referred to local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies for further action. Most of those cases involved fraud and financial losses by the victims. The losses from the referred cases totaled $559.7 million.
The complaints not referred to law enforcement generally had no financial lossesâ€”for example, a victim received a fraudulent unsolicited e-mail but didn’t act on itâ€”or involved victims and perpetrators who both lived outside the United States.
But complaints not directly referred to law enforcement are still valuableâ€”they’re accessible by law enforcement and are used to analyze trends, gather intelligence, and educate the public. So if you feel you’ve been targeted, please submit a complaint to IC3, whether you lost money or not.
Some of the more popular e-mail scams during 2009 (and scams to watch out for during 2010) included:
- A new spin on the “hit-man” scam, in which individuals received an e-mail from an “assassin” who claimed he was going to kill them, but who said they would be spared if they sent money because someone in his organization knew a member of their family and pled for their lives
- Spam or pop-ups offering free astrological readings, but only after birthdates and birthplaces were provided. Victims were then enticed into purchasing a full-fledged reading with the promise they would find out something favorable was about to happen. Of course, they never received the reading
- Economic stimulus scams, where victims received a recorded phone message directing them to websites where they could apply for government stimulus money after first entering personal information and paying a small fee. Needless to say, no stimulus money was received.
- Fake pop-up ads for anti-virus software that warned of the existence of computer viruses but actually downloaded malicious code when clicked.