The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reminding consumers to be wary of online scams, especially around the holidays.
The FBI warns that identity thieves may try to gain personal information by sending e-mails and text messages indicating problems with financial accounts. Complaints about cyber fraud are on the rise. The Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, received 336,655 complaints in 2009, a 22 percent increase over the previous year. The center -- a partnership of the FBI and the nonprofit National White Collar Crime Center -- said the complaints involved losses totaling $559.7 million in 2009, up from $264.6 million a year earlier.
Law enforcement investigated almost 44 percent of last year's complaints and roughly 26 percent the previous year, according to IC3 data. Cases are not referred to law enforcement unless there's documented harm or either the complainant or the scammer lives in the U.S.
To avoid being victimized by cyber fraud, the FBI recommends that you:
-- Be wary of unsolicited e-mail (spam). Do not respond to it or clink on links within it.
-- Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files; the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan the attachments for viruses, if possible.
-- Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
--Always compare the link in the e-mail with the link to which you are directed to determine if they match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
-- Log directly onto a store's website identified in the e-mail instead of linking to it from an unsolicited e-mail. If the e-mail appears to be from your bank, credit card issuer or other company you deal with frequently, your statements or official correspondence will provide the proper contact information.
-- Verify any requests for personal information by calling the business or financial institution using the phone numbers listed on a billing statement or credit card.
-- Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the e-mail to verify if the e-mail is genuine.
-- Beware if you are asked to act quickly. Scammers often create a false sense of urgency.
For more information on online scams, visit the FBI's E-Scams and Warnings Web page at www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/e-scams. For information on filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, visit ic3.gov. SIDEBAR
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, lists the 10 most common cyber fraud complaint categories:
1. FBI scams, in which the sender tries to get money or personal identification via e-mails claiming to be from the FBI.
2. Advance fee fraud. It involves promises of giving something in exchange for an advance payment.
3. ID theft, involving stolen personal information.
4. Nondelivery of merchandise. An item is purchased but never delivered.
5. Overpayment fraud. Someone receives a bad check or money order with instructions to deposit it into a bank and return some money to the sender.
6. Miscellaneous fraud. An attempt to get the recipient to send money where nothing is bought or sold.
7. Spam. A consumer gets unsolicited or unwanted e-mail, usually mass distributed.
8. Credit card fraud. Someone attempts to make unauthorized charges to another person's account.
9. Auction fraud. Transactions occur in false auctions.
10. Computer damage. Criminals target and damage computers.