While the number of consumer complaints to the FTC about online fraud remains small, the number of issues around spyware, malware and adware are skyrocketing.
Consumer complaints about
malware, spyware and adware skyrocketed in 2010 as users struggled with
increasingly sophisticated computer threats, according to the Federal Trade
The number of complaints
consumers made to the FTC about malware, spyware and adware more than tripled from
6,012 issues logged in 2009 to 22,813 in 2010, the FTC
said in a report
released March 8. There were nine times more complaints to
the FTC in 2010 than there were in 2008, the report said.
In the grand scheme of
things, online fraud is still minuscule, as it accounted for less than 10
percent of 1.3 million fraud and identity theft complaints the FTC received and
processed in 2010. Fraud-both offline and online-constituted 54 percent of
Of the 725,087 fraud
complaints in 2010, online fraud accounted for about 17 percent. Regardless of
fraud type, about 27 percent said e-mail was the method of initial contact, while
6.7 percent reported a Website was. About 40 percent of the complaints didn't
have information about the initial contact, so it is likely that the actual
online numbers may be higher.
The report had two
categories for online fraud. The Internet Auction category referred to the non-delivery
of goods, the delivery of goods less valuable than advertised, or not getting
all the relevant information about the sale. The Internet Services category
included trial offers from Internet service providers; difficulty cancelling an
ISP account; issues with online entertainment, gaming and social-networking
services; undisclosed charges; and issues with spyware, adware and malware.
Internet auctions had the
most complaints for online fraud, with 4.19 percent, followed by Internet
information and adult services, at 1.76 percent. Spyware, adware and malware
represented the third most common complaint, at 1.7 percent, followed by Internet
access services, at 1.19 percent. Interestingly enough, difficulties with an
ISP (Internet access services) were the top issues in 2008 and 2009, and
spyware, adware and malware accounted for less than half a percent and barely
made a blip.
The significant drop in ISP
complaints also accounted for the slight decline in the total number of online
fraud complaints in 2010 from 2009.
The most dramatic change in
the threat landscape was in social-networking services, mirroring the rise
in popularity of sites like Facebook and Twitter. While there were only
six complaints from consumers to the FTC in 2009, that number jumped to 454
complaints in 2010, according to the report. In contrast, there were no
complaints about social-networking services in 2008, said the FTC.
The Consumer Sentinel
Network Data Book for January to December 2010 is based on data in the FTC's
Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database with more than 6.1 million
consumer complaints about fraud and identity theft.
The CSN, established in 1997,
retains data for only the past five years and also includes complaints from
other public service organizations, including the Internet Crime Complaint
Center, the Better Business Bureau, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the U.S.
Postal Inspection Service, the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the
National Fraud Information Center. For the first time this year, four states
submitted data, including North Carolina, Idaho, Mississippi and Minnesota.
Publishers Clearing House and MoneyGram International were also included.