FBI: Victims of online fraud lost $800m to scammers last year

Australians reported $11 million in losses to online fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3) last year, making it the third largest source of losses in the world.

The IC3’s roundup of internet-enabled fraud in 2014 paints a grim picture for victims of online scams, ranging from dating, auto, real-estate and extortion. Around 124,000 or just under a half of the 269,000 reports filed last year were from people who claimed to have lost money to a scam, amounting to just over $800 million, according to IC3.

Fraudsters preferred social engineering and compromised accounts to gain personal details. The total amount also excluded scams where total reported losses were less than $100,000, meaning the figure is an underestimate.

While the IC3 has seen a surge in fraud related to virtual currencies, older schemes like romance scams remain the largest source of losses to individuals in the US, reflecting similar patterns in Australia, where the government reported in May that dating scams accounted for over a third of the $82 million lost to fraud last year.

Women aged 40 and over in the US reported the largest total losses to romance fraud, totalling $68.5 million for the year. Men aged 40 and over lost $13.8 million while women and men aged under 39 reported losses of $4.4 million.

Of note however, IC3 said it had received 2,417 complaints about “business e-mail compromise” last year with total reported losses of $266 million. Though targeted at businesses, IC3 said these scams were often linked to other criminal activity, such as romance, lottery, employment and check scams.

The IC3’s report included complaints made by non-US citizens, which collectively made up just under nine percent of all complaints. Australians registered less than one percent of the total complaints, placing it fifth by volume, however it ranked third in reported losses.

The US accounted for $672 million in losses last year, followed by Canada and Australia, which reported losses of $11.8 million and $11.1 million, respectively. Reported losses from Hong Kong and the UK totalled $8.6 million each. Within the US, Californians reported the biggest losses at $131 million for the year, followed by Florida’s $52 million.

Auto was the second largest category with men typically reporting larger losses across all age groups. Men aged between 30 to 49 reported losing $16.9 million to such scams, while women in that age bracket reported losing $7.4 million. Men over 50 also reported $16.7 million in losses, while women in that age bracket reported $6.3 million in losses. Men and women who were 29 years and under reported losing $5.2 million and $3.7 million respectively.

Women, it seems, were far more prone to fraud where a scammer impersonates a government official. Women aged 30 to 39 reported losses of $3.9 million last year compared to $70,845 in losses reported by men in that age group. Women between 50 and 59 years reported losing $2.3 million, while men the same age reported losses of $1.3 million.

The average loss where government impersonation was used was approximately $1,450 per complaint, with scammers posing as law enforcement and high profile government figures, such as Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI director Hames Comey.

Extortion scams were dominated by cash advance or payday loan schemes, which hustle victims with an email and calls demanding immediate payment to avoid legal consequences. Older people bore the brunt of these scams, with men and women aged 50 and over reporting collective losses of $9.5 million. People aged 30 to 49 reported losing $5.3 million, while people aged 29 and under reported losses of less than $2 million. Total losses for men in each were slightly larger than for women.

Elderly people also reported the majority of financial losses due to real-estate fraud, with $12.6 million lost by men and women over 50 years of age. Men and women aged under 50 years lost $3.2 million and $3.9 million respectively.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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Tags canadaInternet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3)Eric HolderHong Kong#CSOAustraliagovernmentfbisocial engineeringCSO AustraliafraudHames Comeyonline scamsAustralia

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