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Still in the Dark

Reports from FBI, SEC show consumers still don't have a grip on the real threats from the Web

4:30 PM -- U.S. consumers filed more than 207,000 Internet-related crime complaints last year, with record losses totaling nearly $200 million, according to a report issued last week by the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. There's just one problem: consumers aren't reporting the types of crimes that could really hurt them.

According to the IC3 report, 44.9 percent of the reports related to online auction fraud, such as receiving a different item than expected. Undelivered merchandise and payments were the second-most frequently-reported offense, accounting for 19 percent of the complaints.

The most expensive crime reported was the Nigerian 419 scam, which collected an average of $5,100 from victims. Some 115 people fell for the email "death threat" scam, in which spammers threatened to kill recipients if they did not send money.

Coincidentally, the FBI report came just days before the agency reported the discovery of new scams from Russia and Eastern Europe that are cleaning out millions of dollars from the 401k and online stock accounts of hapless American victims.

If this data shows nothing else, it's that most U.S. consumers still don't get it when it comes to computer crime. While spam, phishing, and identity theft continue to escalate, the majority of consumers are busily reporting eBay sellers who don't leave the tags on their beanie babies. And there remains a scary few who are still falling for 20-year-old 419 scams that were pretty transparent in the first place.

Meanwhile, more sophisticated and serious identity thefts, such as the investment fraud reported by the SEC, often go unnoticed or unreported until it's too late. It is, to put it lightly, a target-rich environment for fraudsters.

To the credit of the security industry, awareness of the computer crime threat seems much greater than it was a few years ago. But it's also clear that the industry needs to make a greater effort to explain to users exactly what they should be wary about. As long as online auction fraud and email death threats are the top concerns, most online criminals don't have much to worry about.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading