Complaints about fraud perpetrated online tripled in 2002, and auction fraud continues to be the most frequently reported offense, according to figures from the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC).

The complaint center, a site run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center, reported that it referred 48,252 fraud complaints to federal, state and/or local law enforcement authorities last year. The year before there were 16,775 referrals.

The Web site not only offers a reporting mechanism for consumers to alert authorities of suspected criminal activity online, but also serves law enforcement agencies as a central repository for complaints related to Internet fraud, working to quantify fraud patterns and provide data on current fraud trends.

The report says that the total dollar loss from all referred fraud cases was $54 million, up from $17 million in 2001. Of course, most fraud cases go unreported, so undoubtedly the dollar value of Internet fraud is much higher.

For the third straight year, Internet auction fraud was the most reported offense, comprising 46 percent of referred complaints. Non-delivery of merchandise and non-payment accounted for 31 percent of the complaints, and credit/debit card fraud made up nearly 12 percent.

And if you ever had any doubts as to why you get so many Nigerian oil scam e-mails as spam, the reason is that it still works for the perpetrators. The IFCC report says that among victims who reported a dollar loss, the highest median losses were found among victims of the Nigerian letter fraud -- $3,864. Plain old identity theft was second at $2,000.

In cases where the perpetrator has been identified, nearly four in five were male and over half resided in the states of California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

The IFCC said it processed an additional 36,920 complaints on computer intrusions, spam, child pornography, and other violations. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI's Innocent Images task force, the National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Federal Trade Commission, and the U.S. Secret Service are regular recipients of IFCC complaint information.

"The IFCC helps victims by putting fraud information into the hands of law enforcement and then fosters inter-agency cooperation so these complaints are responded to quickly," said Assistant Director Jana Monroe of the FBI's Cyber Division.

The complete report for 2002 can be found in PDF format here.