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Cyber crime complaints drop 43 percent in Ohio

Internet-related crimes cost Ohio consumers nearly $1 million less last year than in 2011 and complaints about online scams dropped nearly 43 percent, according to a new report.

The state’s top law-enforcement officer called those statistics a “blip” and said they don’t reflect the number of online fraud cases being reported to his office.

“I don’t think we are into any kind of long-term decline in that type of crime,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Thursday in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News.

Internet-related crimes cost Ohio residents $9.8 million in 2012, down from $10.6 million the previous year, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2012 Internet Crime Report. Ohio ranked 13th in the nation for total losses last year, down from ninth in 2011, the report said.

Ohio had 7,234 complaints last year about Internet-related crime, down from 12,661 in 2011, dropping the state to ninth from fifth nationally.

Ohio’s large population contributes to the overall number of victims in the state, said Todd Lindgren, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cincinnati division.

Lindgren said the declines might be due in part to increased public awareness. The FBI has worked with law enforcement and community partners to alert the public about a number of Internet-related scams, “especially those that use the FBI’s name or logo to try to steal money from unsuspecting citizens,” he said.

Ohio’s cyber fraud law enacted in June 2012 has enabled the state’s Economic Crimes Unit to focus “on the criminal side of consumer rip-offs,” but whether it’s had a deterrent effect is yet unknown, DeWine said.

DeWine created the unit in March 2011 to identify criminal conduct in consumer fraud cases and to assist Ohio’s prosecuting attorneys in holding scammers criminally accountable. To date, 65 people have been charged with felonies and 35 have been convicted as a result of the unit’s investigations. About 25 of the 65 people charged were involved in Internet-related crimes, officials said.

The most common scam in southwest Ohio in recent months was a “ransomware” scheme that involved an FBI logo appearing on victims’ screens with a message saying their computer was locked because of illegal downloading activity, Lindgren said. Victims were instructed to send several hundred dollars via money order to a certain address to unlock their computer.

The FBI’s regional office received dozens of calls daily about the scam, Lindgren said. Complaints have since declined, but the FBI is seeing new versions of the scheme using the logos of the Internet Crime Complaint Center and other federal agencies, he said.

“These are fraudulent and we’ve told people definitely don’t send any money to anyone, that it is indeed a scam,” Lindgren said.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center was established as a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center to receive Internet-related criminal complaints for analysis and referral to federal, state, local or international law enforcement.

Nationally, the center received 289,874 consumer complaints last year with an adjusted dollar loss of $525.4 million, an 8.3-percent increase in reported losses from 2011. The center received more than 300,000 complaints in 2011.

Lindgren said people should report suspected Internet-related scams to the complaint center by using an online form at Victims who actually have lost money to a scam also should file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, he said.

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