More Internet shoppers become victims of wire fraud

BY ABE TEKIPPE | JUNE 24, 2009 7:21 AM

Bethany DeCoster, a recent UI graduate, paid $50 last summer for downloadable “anti-virus software.” But when she submitted her credit-card information, the program turned out to be a virus.

Such incidents of online theft and fraud — now locally classified as “wire fraud” — are up both in Iowa City and nationally.

“[Personal] information is out there way, way more than it was five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago,” said Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay.

Prior to 2008, the Iowa City police classified incidents of online theft and fraud as theft. Then, at the request of the FBI, the department began classifying such cases as wire fraud — which Kelsay defined as “any theft or fraud involving the use of a telephone or the Internet.”

Last year, Iowa City police reported 22 incidents of wire fraud to the federal agency. So far in 2009, that number has been surpassed at 28 incidents.

Although the FBI collects information from local law-enforcement agencies, it does not compile national wire-fraud statistics.

The Iowa Code does not list the new classification; there is no wire-fraud charge under the state law.

While the incident would be recorded as wire fraud, the perpetrator would be charged with theft, Kelsay said, and the degree of theft is based on value and, in some cases, previous theft offenses.
Of course, local authorities have to locate offenders before they can actually charge them with anything, something that can be extremely difficult to do when it comes to the Internet.

“As crime crosses state lines, it becomes a federal issue,” Kelsay said. “How does the Iowa City Police Department investigate something that originates in Nigeria, or Russia, or China, or some other country?”

The Internet Crime Complaint Center — a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center — does keep track of national complaints of online crime, including wire fraud.

According to its 2008 Internet Crime Report, the national complaint center saw the number of complaints soar from 206,884 in 2007 to 275,284 in 2008, a record 33.1 percent increase. The report said “anyone who utilizes the Internet is susceptible [to crime]” and that the center has received complaints from people ranging in age from 10 to 100 years old.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the increases are partially due to the complaint center becoming more well-known as a “[crime] reporting mechanism.”

DeCoster did not report her incident to law enforcement or the complaint center. She simply canceled her credit card after she accidentally “bought” the computer virus. She now pays around $9 per month for fraud protection, an investment she said is well worth the money.

Still, not everyone is concerned.

“I’ve never been worried about [online crime] because I’ve never had a bad experience,” UI senior Alex Loveland said. “I feel like if you’re just careful with who you do business with, you’ll be fine.”

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