By Claudia Buck
California led the country in cyber-crime complaints and dollar losses to victims last year, according to a study released today by the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI, National White Collar Crime Center and the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
Nationally, the biggest source of complaints and dollar losses were: romance scams, work-at-home scams and FBI-related imposters.
More than 314,000 cyber-crime complaints were filed by consumers nationwide in 2011, up 3.4 percent from a year ago. For those reporting financial losses, the average victim was duped out of $4,187.
Based on the number of complaints, the top five states were California (34,169), Florida (20,034), Texas (18,477), New York (15,056) and Ohio (12,661). Total reported losses for California victims was $70.5 million; nationally, losses topped $483 million.
Why was California the hardest hit?
"The honest hard truth is we're not exactly sure," said William Hinerman, unit chief of the Internet Crime Complaint Center. "It could possibly be that states with larger populations equal more complaints, more victims and more perpetrators."
On a per capita basis, other states experienced more complaints of cyber crime. Alaska topped the list. Rounding out the top five were Alaska, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Nevada and Colorado.
In a conference call with reporters, Hinerman and other IC3 officials said Internet crime is "grossly under-reported" nationally. "We know there are tens of millions of computer users in the United States and everybody who gets email, gets spam." Given that Internet usage is continually growing, he noted, the 314,000 complaints filed last year is "a miniscule fraction of the total crime perpetrated on the Internet."
Regardless of causes, he and other Internet crime experts urged consumers to be vigilant. Do your homework, research the source of any online financial offers and be skeptical of anything that simply sound too good to be true. For more information: www.ic3.gov.
To contact the Bee's Claudia Buck, call (916) 321-1968.