The US Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Internet Fraud Complaint Centre (IFCC) referred 48,252 fraud complaints to US federal, state and local law enforcement agencies last year, triple the 16,775 referrals it made in 2001.
The IFCC, run by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Centre, said it has also received nearly 37,000 other complaints related to computer intrusions, unsolicited spam and child pornography.
An IFCC spokesperson said the centre was monitoring the fraud complaints but didn't know how many had resulted in convictions because many of the cases had yet to be resolved.
According to the 2002 Internet Fraud Report, issued yesterday by the IFCC, victims of Internet fraud lost $US54 million in 2002, up from the $US17 million they lost in 2001.
For the third straight year, Internet auction fraud topped the list of reported offences, accounting for 46 per cent of referred complaints, the IFCC said. Non-delivery and non-payment of merchandise made up 31 per cent of complaints and credit/debit card fraud accounted for 12 per cent of complaints, according to the report.
Victims who fell prey to one of the most prevalent Internet scams, the Nigerian letter fraud, lost a median amount of $3864 each, according to the figures they reported to the IFCC. Victims of identity theft reported losing a median amount of $2000. Check fraud victims lost a median amount of $1000.
The IFCC said it received 16,164 complaints last year from people who fell for the Nigerian letter scam, a 500 per cent increase over the 3232 complaints for that scam recorded in 2001.
This scam, which has been around since the early 1980s, tells victims they have an opportunity to receive non-existent government funds from alleged dignitaries, mainly from Nigeria, if they pay money upfront, which many of the perpetrators say will be used to bribe government officials.
The IFCC said that in 2002, 74 people lost $1.6 million to this scam.
According to the report, more than 300 people lost a total of more than $800,000 to a Worcester, Massachusetts, woman, Teresa Smith, who purported to sell computers through Internet auctions but never delivered the merchandise.
Smith, who used a number of identities in order to defraud her victims, pleaded guilty in federal court to five counts of mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud and is awaiting sentencing. She could face up to five years in prison on each count and a $250,000 fine.