March 31, 2010, 12:00 AM

Internet retail scams contributed to a rise in online fraud losses in 2009

Online fraud losses more than doubled last year to $600 million, up from $265 million in 2008. The largest single category of consumer complaints were related to e-mail scams in which FBI agent impersonators tried to steal personal information.

Online fraud losses more than doubled in 2009, with scams related to online retail contributing to the problem, according to the latest annual report from the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Consumers lodged 336,655 complaints with the center in 2009, up 22.3% from 275,284 in 2008. Losses linked to those complaints increased 111.2%, to $559.7 million from $265.0 million in 2008. E-mail scams in which criminals pretended to be from the FBI in order to steal personal information from the victim represented 16.6% of the complaints, the largest single category of complaints.

The second-largest category involved non-delivery of merchandise or payments, accounting for 11.9% of complaints. Scams related to identity theft accounted for 8.2% of complaints in 2009. Misuse of credit cards accounted for 6%, while scams linked to online auctions accounted for 5.7%, the center says.

Such crimes should concern online retailers, says John Kane, research manager for the National White Collar Crime Center.

“Retailers are often the ones left holding the bag on chargebacks related to fraudulent use of someone’s account,” he says. “Online retailers can also suffer reputation damage associated with phishing and similar scams due to their name or likeness being used to trick people out of personal and financial information.”

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