Internet Crime in the U.S. and Alaska

Internet Crime in the U.S. and Alaska 

"Internet Crime in the U.S. and Alaska" by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 28(1): 2-3 (Spring 2011). In 1997, the Internet was used in 18 percent of U.S. households, but by 2009, the percentage of U.S. households using the Internet had climbed to 69 percent - an increase accompanied by a whole new nexus for crime and fraud in the U.S. and globally. This article provides an overview of the response to Internet crime in Alaska and of data from the 2010 "Internet Crime Report" issued by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Personal computers entered everyday life in the 1980s, and the National Science Foundation reports that in the 1990s "the world came online." In 1997, 18 percent of U.S. households reported using the Internet at home; by 2000, that number jumped to 42 percent, and by 2009 Internet use at home was at 69 percent. (See Table 1.) That coming online brought with it a whole new nexus for crime and fraud in the U. S. and globally. In response to this new crime potential, in 2000 the federal government founded the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), a partnership between the National White Collar Crime Center (NWC3) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The IFCC was created to handle reports of crime using the Internet and to refer cyber crimes to the appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency. In 2003, the IFCC was renamed the Internet Crime Complaint Center or IC3 in recognition of the range of cyber crimes (not just fraud) that were being referred to it. Each year, the IC3 issues an "Internet Crime Report" in conjunction with the NCW3, Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Department of Justice. The 2010 report presents details on cyber crimes including complaint, perpetrator and complainant characteristics, complainant-perpetrator locations, and summary by state. This article is a brief overview of the response to Internet crime in Alaska and of data from the 2010 report.

Table 1. Households in the U.S. with a Computer and Internet Use, 1984-2009

Response in Alaska

In Alaska, the Technical Crimes Unit and the Financial Crimes Unit of the Alaska State Troopers (AST) Alaska Bureau of Investigation respond to "crimes which involve computers and financial crime," and AST is a member of the NWC3. (The primary focus of the Technical Crimes unit is online child exploitation and the individuals who exploit children through manufacturing, possessing, and distributing child pornography. See "Internet Crimes Against Children" in this issue.) Other, but not all, Alaska law enforcement agencies are also members of the NWC3 and may have specific personnel assigned to handle cyber crime. All complaints are collected by the national IC3. Information on complaints is sent to law enforcement agencies in the victim's state, and if the perpetrator's state is known, to agencies in that state also. These agencies coordinate efforts to work on each case. Law enforcement officers and investigators interview victims, collect evidence which may include emails and receipts or other items, and ensure all this information is shared with the appropriate agencies working on the complaint.

The most common Internet crime in Anchorage is stolen credit card numbers. The Anchorage Police Department (APD) Financial Crimes Unit received reports of an estimated 1,000 Internet fraud cases in 2010, almost all related to credit cards. However, because most Internet credit card fraud is actually perpetrated in other states or countries, i.e., the perpetrator is not in Anchorage, APD does not have jurisdiction. In cases where the perpetrator is identified as being in Anchorage, APD does the investigation. Victims of credit card fraud in Alaska do have recourse through their credit card companies.

In addition to collaborating with national organizations, Alaska has its own Alaska Financial Crimes Task Force instituted in 2006. The task force is made up of representatives from the Alaska State Troopers, Anchorage Police Department, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Attorney's Office, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Alaska Department of Revenue, who meet monthly to discuss trends and issues in cyber crime, as well as other types of fraud.

The Cyber Crimes Unit of the Alaska Department of Law was launched in January 2010 and currently has one Assistant Attorney General who is based in Anchorage. This unit deals with all types of Internet crimes, but the majority of the caseload involves Internet crimes against children.

National Trends in Cyber Crime

The IC3 has been collecting Internet crime statistics for ten years. The data show a steady rise in Internet crime complaints over the past decade, with the second-highest number of complaints (303,809) being received in 2010. (2009 holds the record for the highest number of complaints at 336,655.) Complaints involving loss of money are referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency; in 2010, 40 percent of all complaints were referred.

The dollar loss from cyber crime has been increasing since the first IC3 report; however, it is clear that there was a tremendous surge in loss amounts from 2008 to 2009. (Dollar amounts are based on figures reported by complainants.) The most recent national financial loss data available is from the 2009 report. In that year, dollar loss represented by all referred cases was $560 million, compared to $265 million in 2008. The average 2009 dollar loss was $5,580, with a median loss of $575.

The top five categories of referred cyber crime offenses in 2010 were:

  • non-delivered merchandise and/or payment (21%),
  • identify theft (17%),
  • auction fraud (10%),
  • credit card fraud (9%), and
  • miscellaneous fraud (8%).

In 2010, two-thirds of cyber crime perpetrators (66%) were found to be in the U.S., while 10 percent were in the United Kingdom, six percent were in Nigeria, three percent were in China, and two percent were in Canada. For U.S. cases where information on perpetrators was available, 75 percent of the perpetrators were male, and over half resided in either California, Florida, New York, Texas, the District of Columbia, or Washington. The IC3 reports that only a small number of perpetrators and complainants in a case reside in the same state, and as a result most cyber crime cases involve multi-jurisdictional issues for law enforcement.

In terms of complainants, over half (53%) were males, and 44 percent were between the ages of 40 and 59. California, with 14 percent, had the highest number of U.S. complainants. The majority of foreign complainants were from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, or India. The IC3 report also notes that in 2010 the median dollar loss due to cyber crime was higher for persons over age 60.

Alaska Cyber Crime

Although cyber crime reports from Alaska represented only 1.6 percent of all reports to the IC3 in 2010, Alaska ranked first in terms of complaints per 100,000 population (567 complaints were received per 100,000 population). A total of 4,024 complaints from Alaska were received by IC3 in 2010. Complaints have an Alaska connection if the complainant is in the state or if the perpetrator is perceived or has been shown to be in Alaska. When the perpetrator location could be identified, Alaska had 68 perpetrators per 100,000 population and ranked 4th of all the states in number of perpetrators per 100,000 population.

The highest dollar loss complaint in Alaska involved "FBI scams" and totaled $213,123. The IC3 defines FBI scams as "scams in which a criminal poses as the FBI to defraud victims." The total estimated dollar loss for cyber crime in the state was over $1,700,000. The total median dollar loss per complainant was $550. However, when looking at dollar loss for specific age groups, Alaskans 20-29 years of age had the highest median amount of loss at $600. Alaskans 30-39 and 50-59 years of age had the next highest median loss of $578 and $577, respectively.

The top five referred complaint categories for Alaska in 2010 were:

  • credit card fraud at 18 percent,
  • non-delivery of merchandise/payment at 16 percent,
  • identify theft at 15 percent,
  • spam at 11 percent, and
  • miscellaneous consumer fraud at 7 percent.

Figure 1 lists the top complaints categories from Alaska and the U.S. Perpetrators of Alaska cyber crime were mostly male (71%). The majority of complainants were also male (79%) and over half (53%) were 40-49 years old.

Figure 1. Most Common IC3 Complaint Categories, U.S. and Alaska, 2010

To file a complaint about a computer crime, contact your local law enforcement agency or file your complaint directly with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at