Incidents of internet fraud tripled during 2002 to 48,252 complaints, compared with 16,775 in the previous year, the FBI monitoring centre said yesterday.
The annual Internet Fraud Report from the FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) found that, in addition to the rocketing number of cases, the total financial loss from all referred fraud cases rose to $54m, up from $17m in 2001.
Of those victims who reported losing money, the highest average losses were found among people who had fallen for the 'Nigerian letter scam'.
There were 419 reported cases of this particular con, with individual average losses of $3,864. Identity theft losses averaged $2,000, and cheque fraud averaged $1,100.
"The IFCC helps victims by putting fraud information into the hands of law enforcement agencies, and fostering inter-agency co-operation so that these complaints are responded to quickly," said Jana Monroe, assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division.
For the third year running, internet auction fraud was the most reported problem, generating 46 per cent of referred complaints.
Non-delivery of merchandise and non-payment accounted for almost a third of IFCC actions. Credit/debit card fraud made up nearly 12 per cent of cases.
The IFCC processed an additional 36,920 complaints during 2002 relating to computer intrusions, unsolicited email, child pornography and other violations.
But only one in four complainants contacted a law enforcement agency about their victimisation prior to filing a complaint with the IFCC.
"As online usage continues to climb, consumer education must focus not only on preventive strategies, but on where an individual can turn for help," said Richard Johnston, director of the National White Collar Crime Center.
"The IFCC is in a position to handle just such an effort to help victims and assist law enforcement."
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