FBI impersonation scams popular on the Internet

Posted May 10, 2012, at 9:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON — An organization created to address online fraud says scams in which criminals impersonate FBI agents were one of the most common types of Internet crime complaints last year – a total of 14,350 nationwide.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center says it has handled over 300,000 complaints in each of the past three years. The 314,246 complaints in 2011 marked a 3.4 percent increase over 2010, when complaints totaled 303,809. The amount of money lost by the victims last year: $485.3 million.

Falsely representing themselves to be FBI agents, online criminals often send blast emails to thousands of prospective victims notifying them of impending windfalls, typically from lottery winnings or inheritance. The emails direct the victim to call someone else in another government agency and at that point, the victim is charged various fees to claim the windfall, which turns out to be nonexistent.

“Basically, the scams need an air of legitimacy in order to work and invoking the FBI or another governmental agency leads victims to believe the fraudsters’ claims,” Charles Pavelites, an FBI supervisory special agent at the Internet Crime Complaint Center in Fairmont, W.Va.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center is a partnership between the FBI and a private group, the National White Collar Crime Center. The Internet complaint center acts as a clearinghouse so that online fraud allegations can be forwarded to law enforcement agencies for possible prosecution.

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