The following information is from the December issue of the FBI Omaha Division's Strategic Partnership Program Newsletter.
Complaints are on the Rise… Internet crime complaints rose 22.3 percent in 2009, according to the latest IC3 report.
Did you receive an e-mail that claimed to be from the FBI and asked for money or personal information? If you did, you're not alone—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 half—146,663—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 losses—for example, a victim received a fraudulent unsolicited e-mail but didn't act on it—or involved victims and perpetrators who both lived outside the United States. But complaints not directly referred to law enforcement are still valuable—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 at: www.ic3.gov/complaint/default.aspx 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 www.fbi.gov/page2/jan07/threat_scam011507.htm , 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 birth-places 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: www.ic3.gov/media/2009/091211.aspx that warned of the existence of computer viruses but actually downloaded malicious code when clicked.
For more information on Internet crime, read the full report at: www.ic3.gov/media/annualreport/2009_IC3Report.pdf
Mass Marketing Fraud
Mass Marketing Frauds target individuals of all ages and walks of life. Victims are lured with false promises of significant cash prizes, goods, services, or good works, in exchange for up-front fees, taxes or donations. Mass Marketing Frauds victimize millions of Americans each year and generate losses in the hundreds of mil-lions of dollars.
The Top Schemes
Foreign Lotteries & Sweepstakes
Foreign lottery fraud is currently one of the most prevalent consumer frauds. Victims are told that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes in a foreign drawing. To collect the winnings, victims are told they must first pay various taxes and fees.
Nigerian Letter Scams
Victims are asked to help illegally transfer funds out of Nigeria in return for a share of the money. Perpetrators ask victims for their bank account information under the pretext that it is needed to complete the transaction. Victims may also be asked to pay money up-front to help defray the cost of taxes, legal fees, or bribes.
Credit & Loan Scams
Victims with poor or non-existent credit are offered credit cards/loans—for an advance fee. ―Credit repair services‖ may offer to help those with poor credit improve their credit ratings—for an advance fee.
The victim is advertising an item for sale. A buyer sends the seller a counterfeit check or money order for more than the cost of the item. The victim is asked to return the difference between the payment and the cost of the item. When the payment turns out to be counterfeit, the victim is held responsible by his or her financial institution.
Con artists solicit donations in the name of non-existent or fraudulent charities. Most charity scams occur during the holidays or in the aftermath of disasters, when philanthropy is most common.
Protect Yourself—How You Can Avoid Becoming a Victim
The Hallmarks of Mass Marketing Fraud
• Offers appear too good to be true.
• Payments for goods or services are required in advance.
• Personal information is requested over the telephone.
• Offers are unsolicited.
• Representatives use high pressure sales techniques, claiming that immediate action is required.
What You Can Do
• Don't believe everything you are told. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• Avoid being taken by high pressure sales. Take the time to research offers before deciding whether or not to participate.
• Don't do business with anyone who solicits your money in advance of awarding a prize.
• Inspect all representatives' credentials carefully.
• Get all offers in writing and keep a copy for your records.
• Don't deposit checks sent by companies that claim the check is being sent to pay fees or taxes on lottery winnings.
• Report scams when they occur
Don't ever be embarrassed. These frauds are perpetrated by sophisticated con artists. File a claim with the appropriate entities listed at the end of this article. Report the crime promptly—you'll have a better chance of getting your money back and bringing the perpetrators to justice when you file a complaint soon after the crime.
Always be skeptical!
Make it a SAFE DAY!