If your email is anything like mine, every day brings a new stream of messages that go directly into the spam folder with their promises of true love, hot sex or free money as long as you’d kindly fill in your personal details and send them along to make the transaction that little bit easier. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll laugh at the new fictional sender name (Recently, the messages in my spam filters have either included the word “spam” as the sender’s last name – I imagine someone who’s actually called “Jessica Spam” getting frustrated every time one of her friends tells her that they didn’t see her email for some reason – or used the real names of popular movie directors and comic book creators from the 1980s) or mangled english used in the subject line, delete the message and wonder “Does anyone actually fall for that?”
The answer, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center – or IC3, for short – is a resounding, and somewhat depressing, yes. According to IC3’s 2011 Internet Crime Report, cyber crime rose 3.4 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year to an estimated adjusted dollar value of $485.3 million. The most common crime reported to IC3 during 2011 was, the report explains, “FBI-related scams, identity theft and advance fee fraud,” with most crimes reported in California (34,169 complaints filed), Florida (20,034), Texas (18,477), New York (15,056) and Ohio (12,661). California also hold the dubious crown of highest dollar losses reported, with a total of $70.5 million.
(Interestingly, when listed by highest complaints per capita, the top 5 list entirely changes, with Alaska coming first, followed by the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Nevada and Colorado.)
Overall, 314,246 complaints were reported to the Center over the course of the year, with the most common two frauds stemming from offers to Work-From-Home (17,382 complaints) or people pretending to be the FBI (14,350 complaints). In terms of reported crimes, FBI impersonation was top (35,764 complaints) with identity theft close behind (28,915 complaints). Also listed as a common complaint: “Romance Scams,” with the following information: Women are twice as likely to get scammed using this method as men – or, at least, twice as likely to report it, which may be an important distinction – and most victims are over 40 years of age, “divorced or widowed, disabled and often elderly.” “These scams not only take a high toll on victims emotionally, but monetarily as well,” the report adds, explaining that last year, reported losses from this type of scam reached $50.4 million, with the average victum losing somewhere around $8,900 in the name of untrue love. “At a rate of 15 complaints received per day,” the report concluded, “these scams saw daily reported losses of roughly $138,000, or more than $5,700 every hour.”
The idea that scam artists aren’t necessarily paragons of virtue isn’t exactly rocket science, but when you put a dollar figure to it – and that dollar figure is $5,700 every hour being scammed out of lonely, likely elderly, victims – there’s just something that little bit skeevier about the enterprise. Apparently, people do fall for spam email and other online scams, and the results can be expensive, embarrassing, and more than slightly tragic.