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Boom time for online crime, with fewer victims

Steal from the rich, give to the crooked

Internet crime is netting the bad guys more money than ever, according to a report compiled from more than 206,000 complaints received last year by the US Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Total losses from 2007 complaints in the US came to $239 million, up $40 million from 2006.

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But the 2007 data, released this week, shows that the total number of complaints received by the group was actually down for the second year in a row. In 2007 the IC3 website logged just under 207,000 complaints. In 2005 that number was over 231,000.

According to John Kane, the IC3 research manager who wrote the report, the drop in complaints can be attributed to increased consumer awareness, but according to Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, there may be another explanation.

Warner spends a lot of time studying the criminals and said that in recent months, researchers have noticed that credit card numbers have often been stolen and then not used.

"One theory is that nobody wants to go to jail for stealing $40," he said. "So when they get access to these accounts, they're using only the ones that they can get the most value from."

Often, criminals will do a balance check and then sell only the cards with the highest balances. "I think there's a little bit of filtering on the criminal side that's at play here," he said.

There was another interesting finding in the 2007 data. The IC3 found that many countries that were commonly linked with cybercrime were the sources of the incidents it tracked, but it did not list China as a top source of perpetrators.

China has been named as the source of many online attacks over the past year, but it didn't make IC3's list of top 10 countries by perpetrators.

Leading the list were the US, the United Kingdom and Nigeria.

The IC3 is a joint effort run by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. The IC3 is the clearinghouse for online crime complaints in the US, and its database is used by regulators and law enforcement to get a picture of criminal trends and, in some cases, help hunt down the criminals.

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