Scammers even trying schemes that invoke the FBI's name
Some scams are linked to organized crime in both the U.S. and overseas, said Brian Hale, spokesman for the FBI in Washington, D.C.
He said one scam continuing since last year targets the FBI itself. E-mail spam messages claim to be an official order from the FBI Anti-Terrorist and Monetary Crimes Division unit in Nigeria, telling recipients they have been named beneficiary of millions of dollars. The messages ask for personal information and threaten the recipient with prosecution if they fail to provide it.
In December, the FBI issued an alert about the scam, stating it does not send such unsolicited e-mail.
For 2007, the most recent data available, the FBI and the Internet Crime Complaint Center received 206,884 scam complaints. That's down slightly from 2006.
The Internet Crime Center, a joint program by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, said more than 90,000 cases nationwide involving estimated losses for the complaints in 2007 at $240 million were referred to law enforcement – up $40 million from the year before.
In Illinois, the national complaint center received 6,214 complaints in 2007. The top dollar-loss complaint to the national center from Illinois that year involved a confidence fraud with losses of $700,000.
Statewide, total scam losses from complaints to the national center for the year were more than $9 million.
Nationally, the most common kind of scam complaint involves online auction frauds, according to Craig Butterworth, spokesman for the National White Collar Crime Center.
So called "work-at-home" scams are also common, he said. That's where a supposed job listing is a hook to lure victims who are "hired" to receive and redistribute money via wire transfers.
That's similar to overpayment scams, according to Butterworth. One example is known as the "super-shopper scam," in which victims think they are getting a legitimate chance to work by shopping or dining out and submitting evaluations of their experience.
Victims receive bad checks, which they are told to deposit, and further instructed to wire a percentage to a third party while using the rest to "complete their assignment," Butterworth said.
"This scam is successful when the (scammer) is able to convert the victim's wire transfer into cash before the bank realizes the initial payment is counterfeit," he said.
Natalie Bauer, spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, said about 20 percent of complaints to the Consumer Protection Division in 2007 involved identity theft. That year, there were 32,577 complaints; of those, 6,388 related to identity theft.
"We expect that trend to continue," Bauer said. "The economic recession is likely a factor in the steady flow of identity theft complaints."
She said the attorney general's consumer complaint hot line has had increased calls about mortgage fraud.
"Some people claim to work with lenders to help you keep your house, but they ask for money up front," Bauer said.
Under Illinois law, the mortgage services have to perform their service first before collecting any money, she said.