Online scams continue to be the scourge of the Internet, and there seems to be no end to the "imagination" of these criminals. As part of its annual wide-ranging look at Internet crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation took a look at the top Internet scams of 2009.
"The figures contained in [the FBI's] report indicate that criminals are continuing to take full advantage of the anonymity afforded them by the Internet. 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," said National White Collar Crime Center Director Donald Brackman in the report. Annual crime complaints reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) have increased 667.8% between 2001 and 2009.
And Internet fraud losses more than doubled in 2009, the FBI reports.
According to the FBI and the IC3 Web site, the "popular scam trends for 2009" included hitman scams, astrological reading frauds, economic scams, job site scams, and fake pop-up ads for antivirus software. (See also "How to Spot an E-Mail Scam.")
From the report, here's a look at the top Internet scams of 2009:
Fake Pop-up Ads for Antivirus Software
One of the truly nasty scams involves pop-up ads for rogue antivirus software. Victims reportedly receive ads warning them of the existence of threatening viruses and/or illegal content allegedly found on the victim's computer. When victims click on the fake pop-ups, malicious code is downloaded. Victims are directed to purchase antivirus software to repair their computers, but in some instances this resulted in viruses, Trojans, or keyloggers downloaded onto their computers.
Attempts to contact the antivirus software companies were unsuccessful. The IC3 says that users who see these unexpected antivirus pop-up warnings should shut down their browsers or their computers immediately and then run an antivirus scan to see what's going on. The FBI says these scammers have made more than $150 million in the past year.
The online "hitman" scammer who threatens to kill recipients if they do not pay thousands of dollars to the sender, is still sending out thousands of e-mails.
Two new versions of the scheme began appearing in July 2008, the FBI said. One instructed the recipient to contact a telephone number contained in the e-mail and the other claimed the recipient or a "loved one" was going to be kidnapped unless a ransom was paid. Recipients of the kidnapping threat were told to respond via e-mail within 48 hours. The sender was to provide the location of the wire transfer five minutes before the deadline and threatened bodily harm if the ransom was not received within 30 minutes of the time frame given.
The recipients' personally identifiable information was included in the e-mail to promote that appearance that the sender actually knew the recipient and their location, the FBI said. In some instances, the use of names, titles, addresses, and telephone numbers of government officials, business executives and/or victims' personal information are used in an attempt to make the fraud appear more authentic, the FBI stated. Victims of this e-mail are typically instructed to send the money via Western Union or Money Gram to a receiver in the United Kingdom.
A down economy is the opportunity for fraud. This one involved unsolicited calls regarding fraudulent "government stimulus money." IC3 received numerous complaints from victims receiving unsolicited telephone calls with a recorded message. The recorded voice message reportedly sounds very much like President Barrack Obama discussing alleged government funds available for those who apply. Victims are warned that the offer is only available for a limited time and are instructed to visit the Web sites www.nevergiveitback.com or www.myfedmoney.com to receive their money. These sites require victims to enter personal identifying information after which they are directed to a second page to receive notification of eligibility. Upon completion of an online application and payment of $28 in fees, victims are guaranteed to receive a large sum of stimulus money, but they never do, the FBI said.
The Federal Trade Commission also warned of these scams. In July it opened "Operation Short Change," and a law enforcement sweep announced today under this aegis includes 15 FTC cases, 44 law enforcement actions by the Department of Justice, and actions by at least 13 states against those looking to bilk consumers through a variety of schemes. These schemes ran the gamut from promising non-existent jobs; promoting overhyped get-rich-quick plans; offering bogus government grants and phony debt-reduction services; or putting unauthorized charges on consumers' credit or debit cards, the FBI said.
The FBI said this familiar scam has resurfaced in which a victim receives spam or pop-up messages offering free astrological readings. The victim must provide his/her birth date and birth location to receive a free reading.
After receiving the reading, the victim is enticed to purchase a full reading with the promise that something favorable is about to happen. The victim pays for the full reading but never receives it, and most attempts to contact the "Professional Astrologer," via email, return as undeliverable, the FBI said.
Hand-in-hand with the economic scams were the at-home and survey scams related to online job sites. With work-at-home scams, victims fall prey to fraudulent postings for a variety of positions, ranging from personnel managers to secret shoppers.
Victims are lured into providing the fraudster with personal identifying information with promises of above average hourly wages or several hundred dollars per week. Some victims are promised the hardware and/or software equipment needed to perform the job. These sites can be so convincing that victims are oftentimes scammed into cashing checks or money orders that they receive; then redistributing a portion of the funds by way of their personal check, cash, money orders, or wire transfers to a third party
In survey scams, fraudsters post ads for participation in a survey regarding employee/employer relationships during the current economic crisis. Those who apply are required to send a copy of their payroll check as proof of employment. After sending the copy, the victim never hears from the fraudster again; however, the employer's account is drained of thousands of dollars by way of fraudulent checks, the FBI said.
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This story, "The 5 Toughest Internet Scams" was originally published by Network World.