Nearly 270,000 complaints about online fraud were filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2014, resulting in an estimated $800 million in losses to victims, the agency said in its annual survey of computer-based crime.
One of the top complaints involved social media fraud in which scammers pursued fake relationships with people looking for love. Also common were scams related to virtual currencies, along with complaints about auto fraud, impersonation emails, real estate fraud and business email schemes.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, received an average of 22,000 complaints a month last year. However, law enforcement officials say that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Only about 15% of fraud victims file complaints with law enforcement agencies, according to the IC3 report. The National White Collar Crime Center, a nonprofit group that works with the IC3 and the FBI, cites industry data showing that online fraud costs U.S. residents and businesses more than $3.5 billion annually.
Created in 2000 to receive complaints about Internet crimes, the IC3 has logged nearly 3.2 million complaints, averaging almost 300,000 complaints a year since 2010. The most active year was 2011, when more than 314,000 complaints were filed. Complaints dipped to about 263,000 in 2013 before creeping up last year.
Overall, there were about 55.6 million visitors to the IC3 website in 2014; of those who filed a complaint, about 124,000 said scammers took them for money.
The most populous states accounted for the highest number of complaints filed: California had the most, followed by Florida, Texas and New York. Men filed more complaints than women – 140,000 compared to 129,000.
Many of the complaints involved scammers posing as military personnel seeking companionship or romance online. According to federal investigators, the crooks search dating websites, chat rooms and social media websites for personal information in an attempt to gain their victims’ trust without meeting them in person.
Women reported being victimized in almost 70% percent of romance cons, losing an estimated $71.2 million.
The IC3 also noted a sharp rise in online crime associated with virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin and Peercoin, with complaints doubling over 2013.
“As this type of currency becomes more popular, criminals have comprised new ways of capitalizing on this market, bilking millions of dollars from victims around the globe,” the center noted in its annual report, which was released in May 2015.
In addition to publishing scam alerts and providing intelligence reports for investigators, the IC3 referred more than 1,500 cases to law enforcement agencies in 2014. Individuals or business owners who believe they have been the victim of an Internet crime can file a complaint through the center’s website, which also provides prevention tips for a variety of online schemes.