“There’s a sucker born every minute”
P. T. Barnum (1810-1891), American showman
"Crime Doesn't Pay"
First used as early as 1927, the saying became the slogan of the FBI and the Chester Gould's Dick Tracy starting in 1931
First, an apology is owed to impresario Barnum. Although the saying is credited to him, most historians of the period believe it was first used by famous con-man Joseph (“Paper Collar Joe”) Bessimer.
Be it Barnum or Bessimer, in either case they were born too early. If they had foreseen today's web, and the level of internet fraud, the saying might have been a sucker born every second. Likewise, the most recent loss figures show that in many cases, internet crime seems to pay very well.
According to the new annual report on cybercrime in the U.S., from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) – in 2012 some 300,000 Americans were victims of internet scams, and collectively they lost more than $500 million.
According to IC3's reckoning, cybercrime was up 8.3 percent in 2012 over 2011. The complaint center received reports from 289,874 people, of whom 114,908 (about 40 percent) said they had actually lost money to an online scam. Each victim lost, on average, $4,573, leading to an overall figure of $525,441,110 lost to cybercrime in 2012.
Broken down by gender, victims were almost evening divvied – 149,601 male and 140,273 female complainants. As other studies have shown, while it seems counter-intuitive, those over age 60 were not among the higher percentage of victims.
California placed first in what the report called "gullible Internet denizens." More generally, the East Coast fared the worst overall. New York, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were within the top 10 states with the most complainants.
People generally know to ignore messages from Nigerian princes, from crooked bank officials, and offers of cheap pills to enhance your sex life. IC3 reported that in 2012, the seven main types of email scams were: auto fraud, FBI impersonation, intimidation/extortion, hit man, scareware/ransomware, real estate fraud and romance.
You look at this list and likely think "huh." Well, auto fraud and real estate fraud are both simple to understand. The scammer has a car or house they need to dump right away for well under market value. You send a deposit; they then disappear with your cash.
FBI impersonation and romance scams are similar in that "promise something great in exchange for just a little bit of money." Crooked bankers have been replaced by crooked FBI agents who have discovered overseas wealth that you can help them repatriate but first requiring only a small initial investment. Romance scammers pretend to find the victim attractive, and request money or gifts before disappearing.
Of the remaining, IC3 defines Intimidation scams often involving phone calls from scammers claiming to represent software companies, requesting hundreds of dollars to fix imaginary user interface problems. In a hit man scam, a supposed killer emails a victim, claiming that someone has put a price on his or her head, but the victim can buy off the hit man with enough money.
In Ransomware the sender pretends to be a government organization, such as the FBI, that has detected illegally downloaded material on a user’s computer. The user must pay a “fine” to unlock his or her system.
You look at these scams and you think "how in the world?" But the IC3 report shows clearly that many people are falling victim. So you must increase your vigilance and accept much of what you see with that preverbal "grain of salt."