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State sees $3.3M in computer fraud in 2010

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Connecticut residents lost more than $3.3 million to computer fraud last year, according to a report released Tuesday by the state Department of Consumer Protection.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a joint effort between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, said in its report that non-delivery of merchandise or payment was the biggest complaint among state consumers in 2010, followed by identity theft and auction fraud. During the previous year, scams involving purported FBI agents had been the top Internet crime in Connecticut.

The state ranked 26th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of its contribution to computer crime last year. Connecticut is 29th among states in population size, according to the latest Census figures.

The median dollar loss for Connecticut residents who filed complaints was about $530, compared with $495 the year before. The biggest loss, $200,000, occurred because of identity theft, according to the Consumer Protection department.

"Anyone who uses a computer is at risk for scams and fraud," said Commissioner William M. Rubenstein in a statement.

He urged residents to install the latest security software on their computers, be aware of protecting personal information and take with a grain of salt offers that appear too good to be true.

Nationwide, computer fraud fell slightly in 2010 compared with the previous year, but the number of complaints - nearly 304,000 - is still significantly higher than it was just a few years ago. In Connecticut, the total bilked from consumers because of computer fraud was cut by more than half last year, but $5 million in losses the previous year - out of a total of $8.6 million - was tied to one incident.

Nearly three-quarters of all those accused of computer crimes in Connecticut were men. Nearly half of those scammed were between 40 and 59 years old.

"Cyber criminals have become more creative in devising ways to separate Internet users from their money," according to the nationwide Internet Crime Report.

And the money lost doesn't begin to account for the time involved in trying to rectify a problem.

Consumer Protection department spokeswoman Claudette Carveth said all incidents should be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center or to the state. One incident alone often isn't enough to lead to an arrest, but multiple reports can help law enforcers detect patterns to further their investigation, she said.

"They can set up dragnets," she said.

l.howard@theday.com

Examples of Computer Crimes

• Secret Shopper Scam: Victims are contacted by e-mail and U.S. mail about applying to be a "mystery shopper" to perform random checks on retailers and service firms. They are also told they are evaluating the ease and accuracy of wiring money from the store. They get a check to cover the wire transfer and purchase of merchandise, but the check turns out to be counterfeit, leaving victims to pay the entire bill.

• Rental Scam: Owners of rental property who advertise online receive a check from a new tenant, who either writes the check for more than the deposit and asks for a refund or writes it for the correct amount and then quickly backs out, asking for his money back. The original check turns out to be counterfeit.

• Payday Loan Scam: A caller claiming to be from the FBI or other agency says the victim is delinquent on a payday loan and demands immediate payment. The caller has accurate personal information and often becomes abusive and threatening. Payments are requested via a prepaid credit card.

• Sweepstakes or Lottery Scam: Payouts are promised by e-mail and in letters if victims pay for taxes and fees upfront by wire transfer. A check enclosed with the letter or sent later supposedly covers the cost of the upfront fees, but later turns out to be fraudulent.

For a consumer complaint form or more information on computer-crime statistics, go to www.ct.gov/dcp.

Source: Internet Crime Complaint Center

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