NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2007
Internet Crime Complaint Center – IC3
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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Quite often I hear anecdotal stories about local people who are scammed on the internet. Common internet scams are auction fraud, online identity theft, counterfeit cashiers’ checks (www.fakechecks.org), investment fraud, Nigerian “419” scams, and many other illicit methods of separating honest citizens from their hard earned money. The situation has become so serious, and people are losing so much money, that the federal government has responded by creating the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. IC3 is a cooperative effort of the FBI (www.fbi.gov) and the National White Collar Crime Center (www.nw3c.org). In its current guise, the IC3 has been around since October 2003, when it evolved from the “Internet Fraud Complaint Center”.

The IC3 reviews and evaluates all complaints received, and refers the complaints to appropriate law enforcement agencies, including local, state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies. Once complaints are referred to an agency with jurisdiction, it may be assigned to an investigator. There are no guarantees that each complaint will be investigated and prosecuted, but common sense would seem to indicate if there is a pattern of complaints, it would more likely garner investigative attention. It should be noted that the IC3 does not itself investigate and prosecute complaints.

To use a Franklinesque expression, it is better to prevent a problem than to have to deal with that problem. IC3 has a section of “Internet Crime Prevention Tips” online at www.ic3.gov/preventiontips.aspx. Since internet auction fraud is one of the leading types of online fraud, IC3 has a series of tips to protect bidders:

* Before you bid, contact the seller with any questions you have.
* Review the seller's feedback.
* Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of your own country.
* Ensure you understand refund, return, and warranty policies.
* Determine the shipping charges before you buy.
* Be wary if the seller only accepts wire transfers or cash.
* If an escrow service is used, ensure it is legitimate.
* Consider insuring your item.
* Be cautious of unsolicited offers.

Other fraud prevention tips cover such diverse subjects as the counterfeit cashier’s check scam (http://fakechecks.org), online credit card fraud, debt elimination services, scams illicitly using the UPS or DHL logos, employment and business opportunities frauds, escrow service scams, identity theft, online extortion, investment fraud, international lotteries, Nigerian 419 scams, phishing (online identity theft), ponzi and pyramid schemes, reshipping of merchandise to overseas locations, spam emails, and “third party receiver of funds”.

IC3 has a pair of flyers that explains its functions, and provides safety tips to the general public. As a matter of policy, I typically include one or both of these flyers in any internet security presentations that I give. The first flyer describes the functions of IC3, and can be downloaded from http://www.ic3.gov/media/IC3-flyer.pdf. The second flyer, which I integrate into the identity theft presentations I give, is the “FBI Fraud Alert” brochure from http://www.ic3.gov/media/FraudAlert.pdf. The FBI Fraud Alert flyer has in bold blue and red font the heading, “IF YOU ANSWER “YES” TO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS, YOU MAY BE GETTING SCAMMED!” One of the most common frauds in circulation is the counterfeit cashier’s check scam, where the purported buyer sends the seller a cashier’s check for greater than the amount of the purchase, with a request for the seller to wire the difference back to the buyer. The cashier’s check is counterfeit, and the remittance returned to the buyer is lost. The FBI warns about the scam this way:

*Are you about to cash a check from an item you sold on the Internet, such as a car, boat, jewelry, etc?
*Is it the result of communicating with someone by email?
*Did it arrive via an overnight delivery service?
*Is it from a business or individual account that is different from the person buying your item or product?
*Is the amount for more than the item’s selling price?
These are often dead giveaways of the scam. Another fraud warning on the FBI flyer, indicative of the commonality of the crime, asks, “Are you sending money overseas? If you can answer “Yes” to any of the following, you are likely to become a victim of a costly financial fraud:
*Did you win an international lottery you didn’t enter?
*Have you been asked to pay money to receive an inheritance from another country? (This is the Nigerian 419 scam)
*Are you receiving a commission for accepting money transfers through your bank and/or PayPal account?

If you, or anyone you know has been victimized by any of these crimes, contact the IC3 at http://www.ic3.gov and file a complaint. By filing a complaint you are taking the valuable first step in trying to shut down and prosecute these crooks.

The two flyers would be a worthwhile insert in a paycheck, and an excellent poster to place where employees and family members can easily access them. They are free to print and distribute, and should be distributed in churches and schools, and to members of civic organizations and clubs. They should get the widest possible dissemination. An informed populace would be an excellent step in eradicating this internet menace.

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