May 11, 2012
Virginians lost more than $11 million and West Virginians nearly $2 million to Internet scams in 2011, according to complaints received by a national clearinghouse.
The totals were reported Thursday by the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3. The Fairmont, W.Va., center said complaints nationally topped more than 300,000 and totaled more than a half-billion dollars in losses to individuals. The complaints were a 3.4 percent increase over the previous year. More than one-third of the complaints involved financial losses.
Officials acknowledged the complaints received by the center represent a small fraction of the Internet-based crime in the U.S.
The center received complaints of Internet-based crime that ranged from identity theft to romance-based appeals that lead often lead to requests for money.
Based on the number of complaints, Virginia ranked ninth while West Virginia came in at 37th among all those received by IC3. In terms of losses, Virginia was sixth with $11.3 million and West Virginia 41st with $1.8 million.
Virginia was ninth in the number of complaints per 100,000, with 106, and West Virginia 25th, with 76 per 100,000.
West Virginia topped Virginia based on average losses per victims: $157.67 to $41.99.
The top five states for victim complaints were California, Florida, Texas, New York and Ohio. California reported the highest dollar losses — $70.5 million.
Nationally, the primary scams involved identify theft, payment of an advance fee for merchandise or service not received and romance-inspired theft. The latter typically involved an opening romantic overture such as flowers or gifts leading to a plea for money.
During a conference call, IC3 officials said common sense goes a long way in turning away Internet scammers. If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is, they said.
"If some stranger came knocking on your door, you wouldn't hand them $1,000," said Terri Shaffer, an IC3 supervisor.
"If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be homework," Shaffer said. "The best think you can do is research the information or contact the business or contact the person."
IC3 officials also said older Americans are increasingly falling for online scams as more become comfortable with computers.
Internet crime analyst Elizabeth Walling said people should be aware of bogus online appeals to older family members.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center works with the National White Collar Crime Center and the FBI. Complaints received by IC3 are referred to law enforcement officials for investigation.