Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FBI's Most Dangerous Internet Scams

Online scams continue to be a disparaging bane of the Internet and there seems to be no end in sight. As part of its annual wide-ranging look at Internet crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken a look at the top Internet scams of 2009 and the numbers aren't pretty. Online crime is indeed paying off for criminals to the tune of $559.7 million, up from $265 million in 2008. Furthermore, the agency's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received a total of 336,655 complaints about online problems and scams, a 22.3% increase over 2008.

“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 Internet Crime Complaint Center have increased 667.8% between 2001 and 2009.

From the report, here’s a look at the top Internet scams of 2009:

Fake Pop-up Ads for Anti-Virus Software

One truly notorious technique for getting people to download malicious files is through the use of fake pop-ups which entice users to click them and follow through with the instructions. One nasty version of this scam involves pop-up ads for rogue anti-virus software. Victims receive pop-ups warning them of the existence of threatening viruses and harmful programs that have been found activated on the victim’s computer. When victims click these fake pop-ups they are directed to purchase anti-virus software in order to repair their computers. However, often times this simply results in downloading actual malicious code such as viruses, Trojans, or key loggers directly onto their computers. Any attempts to contact these "anti-virus" software companies have proven unsuccessful. The IC3 advises users who see these unexpected antivirus pop-up warnings to shut down their browsers or their computers immediately and then run an antivirus scan as soon as possible. The FBI said that scammers have made more than $150 million in the past year alone using this method.


The online “hitman” scam is also a tried and true favorite for the dredge of the internet. These scammers threaten to kill recipients if they do not pay thousands of dollars to the sender. There are many indications that thousands of internet users are continuing to receive these emails. According to the FBI, two new versions of this scheme began appearing in Summer 2008. One version instructs the recipient to contact a telephone number contained in the e-mail and the second claims that the recipient or a loved one will be kidnapped unless a specified ransom is paid. Many recipients of the kidnapping threat were told to respond via e-mail within 48 hours and the scammer was to provide the location of the wire transfer five minutes before the deadline. If payment was not received within a 30 minute time frame bodily harm was threatened. What makes this scam truly believable is that often times the recipients personally identifiable information will be included in these hitman e-mails. Names, titles, addresses, and telephone numbers and are all used to make this scam appear more authentic giving the illusion that the sender has prior knowledge about the recipients location and personal life. Victims of these e-mails are typically instructed to send the money via Western Union or Money Gram to a receiver in the United Kingdom.

Economic Stimulus

A down economy creates the perfect opportunity for fraud and criminals waste no time in exploiting unknowing persons. This particular scam involves unsolicited calls regarding fraudulent “government stimulus money” for citizens who qualify. IC3 received numerous complaints from victims receiving unsolicited telephone calls with a recorded message about government stimulus money. The recorded voice message sounds akin to President Barrack Obama discussing 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 information, after which they are directed to a second page to receive notification of eligibility. Upon completion of an online application and the payment of a $28 fee, victims are guaranteed to receive a large sum of stimulus money, but of course they never do.

Job Site

Going hand-in-hand with the economic scams are the at-home and survey scams related to online job sites. Regarding work-at-home scams, victims fall prey to fraudulent postings for a variety of positions ranging from personnel managers to government positions and even secret shoppers. Victims are lured into providing the fraudster with personal information with promises of above average hourly wages or several hundred dollars per week. Victims are promised the hardware and/or software equipment needed to perform the job and sometimes even go as far as purchasing the needed equipment from their "job prospects". These sites can be so convincing that victims are even scammed into cashing checks or money orders that they receive. 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.

Astrological Reading

A tried and true favorite. This familiar scam, which involves the victim receiving spam e-mails or pop-up message offering free astrological readings, has seen a recent resurgence due to the down economy and typically goes as follows. The victim is enticed into receiving a free astrological reading for simply providing their birth date and birth location. After receiving the reading, which is always incomplete, the victim is advised to purchase a full reading with the promise that something favorable is on the verge of happening. The victim pays for the full reading but never receives it, and all subsequent attempts to contact the astrologer turns up empty.

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