Last year was a banner year for cyber-crime.
According to figures from the Internet Crime Complaint Center, online fraud in 2009 cost the American public $559.7 million - more than double the $265 million stolen in 2008. These figures, according to the report, are based on crimes reported to law enforcement, meaning the actual amount could be much greater.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), released the numbers as part of its 2009 Annual Report about cyber-crime. The group received a total of 336,655 online crime complaints for the year, an increase of more than 20 percent from 2008. The complaints covered a lot of ground, including e-mail scams that used the FBI's name - the largest category of complaints IC3 received - as well as scams involving the non-delivery of merchandise and/or payment.
Late last year, IC3 released a warning from the FBI that malware and phishing schemes targeting online bankers had led to a significant increase in Automated Clearing House (ACH) fraud. The scams were claiming many small and midsize businesses among their victims, as well as court systems, schools and other public institutions, authorities said.
"The figures contained in this report indicate that criminals are continuing to take full advantage of the anonymity afforded them by the Internet," NW3C Director Donald Brackman said in a statement. "They are also developing increasingly sophisticated means of defrauding unsuspecting consumers. Internet crime is evolving in ways we couldn't have imagined just five years ago."
In those cases where information about suspects is known, 76 percent of the perpetrators were male and more than half resided in California, Florida, New York, Texas and D.C. Nevada, Washington, Montana, Utah, Florida and D.C. have the highest per capita rates of perpetrators in the United States, according to the study.
The people who lost the most per complaint were those between the ages of 40-49, with an average reported loss of $700 per complaint. The 30-39 age bracket was the second highest, with $600 per complaint.
"Law enforcement relies on the corporate sector and citizens to report when they encounter online suspicious activity so these schemes can be investigated and criminals can be arrested," said Peter Trahon, Section Chief of the FBI's Cyber Division, in a statement. "Computer users are encouraged to have up-to-date security protection on their devices and evaluate e-mail solicitations they receive with a healthy skepticism-if something seems too good to be true, it likely is."