Internet-based rip-offs jumped 33 per cent last year over the previous year, causing a loss of $265 million to the victims, with the fifth largest number of complaints coming from India, according to a new report.
Americans filed 275,284 reports (92.4 per cent), claiming to be ripped off on the Internet, the highest number reported since the Internet Crime Complaint Centre, a partnership of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Centre, began keeping statistics in 2000.
Canada came a distant second with 1.77 per cent complaints followed by Britain (0.95 per cent), Australia (0.57 per cent) and India 0.36 per cent.
"This report illustrates that sophisticated computer fraud schemes continue to flourish as financial data migrates to the Internet," said Shawn Henry, the FBI's assistant director of the cyber division.
At $265 million the total dollar loss from such crimes was $26 million more than the price tag in 2007, the Centre said. For individual victims, the average amount lost was $931.
The dollar loss has been on a steady increase since 2004, while the number of cases referred to law enforcement has decreased steadily since that same year.
Henry said the figures show the need for computer users, in businesses and in homes, to be wary and use sound security practices while using the Internet.
The centre said the top three most frequent complaints were about merchandise that wasn't delivered or payment that wasn't received, Internet auction fraud and credit/debit card fraud. Other scams include confidence frauds such as Ponzi schemes, cheque fraud, the Nigerian letter fraud and identity fraud.
One popular identity fraud scam used during 2008 involved sending e-mails crafted to appear as if they had been sent by the FBI. Sometimes the scammers went so far as to say the mailings were from FBI Director Robert Mueller himself, according to the centre.
The e-mails would ask the recipient for personal information, such as a bank account numbers, claiming the FBI wanted the information to look into an impending financial transaction.
One variation of the scheme, according to the centre, was to send an e-mail saying the recipient is entitled to lottery money or an inheritance and the funds can be moved as soon as bank account information is supplied.
The FBI has issued warnings about such scams in the past and Monday's report included a new one: "The FBI does not contact US citizens regarding personal financial matters through unsolicited e-mails."