Generally speaking, illegal activity involving a computer can be called cybercrime. With the advent of the Internet, cybercrime has exploded, which is not surprising with more than 1 billion people using the Internet around the world. There is no shortage of potential targets, and victims and perpetrators can be separated by oceans.

The anonymity of the Internet allows for low costs and leaves few traces, and cybercriminals can be individual operators or part of larger schemes, possibly even affiliated with organized crime. Ironically, technology makes it easy to create fraudulent online material that appears identical to the Internet marketing web pages of legitimate entities.

Increased activity on the Internet has brought more prosecutions. Due to the lack of face of those who commit these crimes, it is easy for police investigators to use the circumstances to prosecute the wrong people.

Unified law enforcement action

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a joint program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Judicial Assistance (BJA) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the National Center for White Collar Crimes (NW3C), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting law enforcement agencies in their fight against “high-tech and economic crime.”

IC3 is a clearinghouse for cybercrime complaints and related civil law violations. Analysts review complaints filed with IC3 online for submission to local, state, federal or international law enforcement, or civilian agencies with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute potential cybercrimes.

Increasing rates

The IC3 released its 2009 report on cybercrime in March and the findings show an explosion of illegal activity online. For example, the number of complaints filed with IC3 in 2009 increased more than 22 percent from 2008 figures. The monetary loss related to online fraud nearly doubled to approximately $ 560 million compared to $ 265 million on last year.

Online criminal complaints increased substantially again last year, according to the report. IC3 received 336,655 complaints in 2009, an increase of 22.3 percent from 2008. The total loss related to online fraud in 2009 was $ 559.7 million, up from $ 265 million in 2008.

This growth has put great pressure on law enforcement to “do something” about the problem. Usually this means that the police arrest more people and the prosecutors prosecute more people. Increased pressure on law enforcement can lead to a “rush to trial”, with false accusations being leveled on innocent people.

Common types of financial cybercrime

Identity theft: Someone can steal your identity by using personal information such as your social security number (SSN), driver’s license number, or credit card account number to commit fraudulent transactions such as opening bank or credit accounts, taking out loans, or making major purchases. The Internet can be the vehicle both for the theft of personal information and for using it to commit forgeries and thefts online. These crimes can seriously damage credit ratings.

Internet fraud: The Internet can be used to commit many illegal acts that involve fraud. Emails, chat rooms, and websites are used to carry out a variety of fraudulent schemes. Fraud can be used to approach individual victims online, engage in fraudulent business activities, or deceptively deal with banks and other financial institutions.

Incomplete transactions: In any exchange of goods or services for money, the parties must act in good faith and rely on each other to complete the transaction. Unfortunately, when things are bought over the Internet, either part can get burned. The seller can keep the money and not ship the item, or the buyer can keep the item and not pay for it. Every day many variations on this theme take place in cyberspace.

Online auction fraud: Auction sites commonly refer to allegations of financial fraud. Auction websites hold virtual auctions for a variety of items and are extremely popular with the public. Unfortunately, fraud can occur in a number of ways, such as:

  • A seller can never send the item to the winning bidder after receiving payment.
  • A seller may send an inferior, damaged or imitation product.
  • A buyer can submit a high bid to keep other bidders at bay and withdraw it at the last minute for a low bid from an associate to be successful.
  • A seller can arrange for someone to increase the bids

International cybercrime: Schemes of international scope include invitations to participate in foreign lotteries and offers of money in exchange for assistance with money transfers to the United States or accounts abroad for allegedly sympathetic causes. Nigeria is often associated with these dangerous offers, specifically called 419 schemes in reference to a section of the Nigerian Penal Code.

Identity fraud – Phishing is an attempt to obtain personal information by using an email that appears to come from a trusted source such as your bank, requesting that confidential data be sent by reply email. Fraudulent emails are often sent in droves.

Counterfeit websites – Those with technical expertise can create professional-looking websites for bogus charities designed to obtain personal information in the donation collection process.

Protect yourself from overzealous prosecution

With the wide variety of cybercrimes and the huge increase in their frequency, law enforcement agencies are under pressure to prosecute anyone suspected of cybercrime. The novelty of the methods used to commit cybercrime often means that many law enforcement entities, with little investigative experience, are not equipped to fully investigate these cases. It is in this context that mistakes are often made when determining who to charge with a particular cybercrime.

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