With all the media emphasis on Internet-related fraud and identity theft, one might think the Internet is a dangerous place for commerce.
As it turns out, although the Internet certainly has its risks, incidents of fraud and identity theft from other more traditional means outnumber those online.
If recent stats are to be trusted, incidents of fraud from Internet-based means may well be on the decline.
According to a report from Javelin Strategy and Research, in cases where the source of the identity theft was known, only nine percent were reported to have come from hacking, viruses and phishing.
In contrast, a lost or stolen wallet or credit/debit card was the cause of 30 percent of the incidents.
The study also found that fraudulent activity is mostly (over 70 percent) conducted offline via phone or mail.
That's not to say that there isn't a nefarious angle to online fraud. Average losses results from Internet-related identity theft fraud have ballooned over the last year to $6,432, up from $2,897.
In the same period losses from ID theft taken from the garbage or mail have declined by 14 percent.
Also of note is the fact that phishing in particular was reported to have the highest average length of misuse at 173 days. In comparison, data taken by friends, acquaintances, relatives or in-home employees was used for 134 days and lost or stolen credit cards for only 75 days.
"With the appropriate security and consumer education, phishing on existing accounts can be minimized," said Rubina Johannes, a research analyst at Javelin Strategy and Research. "However, to stop phishing on new accounts is more difficult."
Johannes added that, "fraudsters are becoming more and more savvy in garnering seemingly innocuous pieces of personal information, which can then be used to open new, fraudulent accounts in the victims' names."
Consumers are far from being helpless, though, when it comes to preventing identity fraud. Johannes notes that 63 percent of potential identity fraud is under the primary control of consumers.
"Too often the message in the media and elsewhere has been 'there's nothing you can do, so beware it will happen to you,'" Johannes said. "Javelin has found that to be patently false, and it's a dangerous message to send to the consumer."
In terms of overall fraud, according to recently released 2005 data from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Internet auctions were the leading complaint category at 12 percent of all complaints, down from 16 percent in 2004.
In 2005, fraudsters used Internet solicitations (e-mail and Web) as the initial point of contact in 55 percent of reported cases, down from 57 percent in 2004.
Overall, the FTC reported that 46 percent of all reported fraud complaints with losses of over $335 were Internet-related, down from 52 percent in 2004.
Adapted from internetnews.com.
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