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Finally, a sign of increased economic activity. The organization that tracks Internet fraud says reports of scams were way up last year, and the problem appears to be getting worse this year. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: Center manager John Kane spoke on a conference call with reporters.
JOHN KANE: It's our belief that these numbers, both the complaints filed and the dollars, represent just a small tip of the iceberg.
SHAPIRO: He said only about 15 percent of Internet fraud cases ever get reported. The median victim lost almost $1,000 in a scam. And Kane said the problem is getting worse.
KANE: In fact, looking at March of '08 compared to March of this year, we've seen almost a 50 percent increase in the number of complaints filed with us.
SHAPIRO: Kane says it's been true throughout history. The economy goes down and crime goes up.
KANE: I think you're seeing almost a perfect storm between the economy downturn and the adoption emergence of new technologies that is really facilitating, unfortunately, the growth in various types of Internet criminality.
SHAPIRO: The Internet Crimes Complaint Center does not keep statistics of how many successful prosecutions come out of its referrals. University of Washington law Professor Anita Ramasastry says these cases are harder to prosecute than most other crimes.
ANITA RAMASASTRY: Much harder.
SHAPIRO: Victims can be anywhere. So can perpetrators.
RAMASASTRY: Some are right here in the U.S. And so we actually have had prosecutions of spammers within the United States that have sent out fraudulent or deceptive marketing. But if they're located in Russia or they're located somewhere else, you know...
SHAPIRO: Nigeria, say.
RAMASASTRY: Well, you know, Nigeria's not in the top ten, as far as I can - I recall. So...
SHAPIRO: I feel like they're in the top ten in my inbox.
RAMASASTRY: Right. But just because it says they're from there doesn't mean that the email's actually originating from there.
SHAPIRO: Well, that points to another challenge of prosecuting these things.
RAMASASTRY: Well, that's right. Well, prosecutors actually have to work with forensic investigators to just figure out again if the headers and so forth were spoofed, you know, where is this actually coming from. And in today's environment it's just a matter of dollars.
SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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