US online fraud and identity theft surges

Deals that look too good to be true often are...
Deals that look too good to be true often are...

America's Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) had a busy year in 2008, tracking record increases in the number of online identity theft and fraud complaints by US consumers.

The secure law enforcement database, organised by US Federal Trade Commission, now contains 7.2 million complaints - with younger users proving particularly at risk.

The CSN received over 1.2 million complaints during 2008 - over half were fraud complaints, and over a quarter involved identity theft.

More than half the fraud complaints originated with an email, while 11 per cent involved a website. Only 7 per cent reported the phone as the initial point of contact.

Ask yourself: did his brother really own a Nigerian oil mine?

Consumers reported paying over $1.8 billion (£1.3 billion) in those fraud complaints. The average amount lost was $440 (£310), up from $357 (£250) in 2007.

While most fraud still affects middle-aged people, the percentage of victims under 30 jumped by 3 per cent from 2007.

313,000 Americans reported identity theft during 2008, with the most common complaints being credit card fraud, followed by benefits and employment fraud.

Want to reduce your chance of being ripped off online? Simple - move to North or South Dakota, the two states that had the lowest levels of both fraud and identity theft complaints.

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.