Internet Crime Stats Go Up, But It's Mostly Due To Methodology Change

Internet fraud complaints received by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the FBI and a non-profit consumer protection organization, seem to reveal that online scam victims lost about $25 million more in 2008 than in 2007, but the IC3 concedes its numbers might be skewed by an increased effort to make filing complaints easier.

The report points out that the IC3 has been pushing major E-Commerce players to provide defrauded customers with easy ways to file IC3 complaints. "As part of these efforts, many of these companies, such as eBay, have provided their customers links to the IC3 website," the report said. "As a direct result, an increase in referrals depicted as auction fraud has emerged."

Because of that, the IC3 cautioned its statistics about Internet crime complaint numbers might be "misleading" and should be viewed as a generalized "snapshot" of the problem.

If the increase in complaints is due, at least in part, to the IC3's efforts, that would also call into question the IC3's assertion that money lost to Internet scammers reached an "all-time high" in 2008 of $265 million. The IC3 says it fielded more than 275,000 complaints in 2008. There were about 207,000 complaints filed in 2007.

Rip-offs involving merchandise sales were "by far the most reported offense," according to the report. During 2008, complains about non-delivery of merchandise and/or payment comprised 32.9 percent of referred crime complaints. "This represents a 32.1 percent increase from the 2007 levels of non-delivery of merchandise and/or payment reported to the IC3," said the IC3. "About one in three complaints were for nonpayment or non-delivery. The other most common complaints were for auction fraud or credit and debit card fraud."

A small piece of good news: Auction fraud, representing 25.5 percent of the complaints received by the organization, declined during the year. The 2008 figure was down almost 29 percent from 2007.

Of the complaints where victims reported losing money, the mean dollar loss amount was about $4,100 and the median was $931, according to IC3. Nearly 15 percent of the lost-money complaints involved losses of less than $100 and about 37 percent reported a loss between $100 and $1,000. "In other words, over half of these cases involved a monetary loss of less than $1,000," says the report.

The IC3 said it forwarded to various law enforcement agencies more than 70,000 of the complaints.

For whatever reason, possibly because of the different types of online shopping done by men and women, the IC3 found that men get scammed more, or for more money, than do women.