Last year was a tough one for most businesses, but for cybercriminals it was one of the best yet.
According to data released on Friday by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), victims reported total losses of US$559.7 million in 2009, more than double the tally for 2008.
The most frequently reported scam was one that used the FBI's own name to try and trick victims into handing over cash or sensitive information. One such scam involved an e-mail claiming to be from FBI Deputy Director John Pistole. Here the scammers tried to trick people into paying bogus fees in order to receive an even larger sum of money, a payout that never arrives.
FBI themed scams accounted for 16.6 per cent of the 336,655 complaints that the IC3 received last year.
Total complaints for 2009 were up 22.3 per cent from the previous year, when victims posted 257,284 complaints and registered $265 million in losses.
Other common scams involved the non-delivery of merchandise or payments - a common form of fraud on online marketplaces such as eBay - advance-fee fraud similar to the John Pistole scam, and identity theft. Fake antivirus software was also common in 2009, the FBI said.
Its report also talks about a few bizarre scams.
Some victims reported getting email from someone claiming to be a hitman hired to assassinate them. The hitman offers to cancel the job if the victim sends $800 to the UK within 72 hours.
In another scam, web surfers have reported bogus pop-up messages that promise free astrological readings. "The victim must provide his/her birth date and birth location to receive a free reading," the IC3 report says. "After receiving the reading, the victim is enticed to purchase a full reading with the promise that something favorable is about to happen."
Instead of good news, however, the victim gets only silence as the promised horoscope never materialises.