Reports of Internet scams and their financial toll continued to grow in 2008, according to the latest data by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which operates a website,, to collect and refer public complaints about Internet fraud.

In 2008, more than $264 million was lost in 275,284 complaints—an average of $931 for every complaint—according to the 2008 Internet Crime Report, released March 30. Almost one-third of the complaints were for non-delivery of merchandise purchased online; auction fraud accounted for one in four complaints.

In one case cited in the 2008 figures, a Virginia woman—Rachel Trent, who was the subject of multiple complaints in three states—advertised rare baseball and football cards on the eBay auction site. Once a buyer paid, the woman sent a worthless card or sometimes nothing at all. She was arrested by a cyber task force and is serving fours years in prison.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (Watch Video) is a partnership between the FBI and the nonprofit National White Collar Crime Center. IC3 collects the data, analyzes it, and then refers complaints to law enforcement agencies to follow up. The report, issued annually since 2003, offers a snapshot of the most frequent Internet crimes, where they are occurring, and who is being victimized.

In the U.S. last year, California, New York, Florida, Texas, and the District of Columbia were home to half the perpetrators identified in complaints. Worldwide, perpetrators were most commonly from the U.S. (66.1%), followed by the United Kingdom (10.5%), Nigeria (7.5%), and Canada (3.1%).

Here’s a look at the scams prompting the most complaints (by percentage), along with the average amount of money lost per complaint:

* Non-delivery of merchandise/payment: $800 (32.9%)
* Auction fraud: $610 (25.5%)
* Credit/debit card fraud: $223 (9%)
* Confidence fraud: $2,000 (7.9%)
* Computer fraud: $1,000 (6.2%)
* Check fraud: $3,000 (5.4%)
* Nigerian letter fraud: $1,650 (2.8%)

The data is posted in full at the National White Collar Crime Center website.

Year     Complaints     Loss
2008     275,284     $265 million
2007     206,884     $239 million
2006     207,492     $198 million
2005     231,493     $183 million
2004     207,449     $68 million

“This report illustrates that sophisticated computer fraud schemes continue to flourish as financial data migrates to the Internet,” FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director Shawn Henry said in a statement.

The 2008 figures represent a 33% increase in complaints and a $25 million increase in losses over 2007. E-mail and webpages were the two primary mechanisms scammers used to commit their crimes, underscoring the need to be vigilant and cautious online, particularly in transactions. The Internet Crime Report offers prevention tips to avoid online traps. You can also visit our Be Crime Smart page to learn about frauds, scams, and how to file tips and complaints.

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