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Print beats net for fraud

Scammers still prefer old-world means, FTC study shows

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With Nigerian 419 scams, phishing attempts and other dubious spam flooding your inbox, you may be tempted to think the net is the epicenter for today's shysters. But it turns out print advertising beat out the internet as the most common means for spreading fraudulent pitches, according to a US consumer survey released Monday by the Federal Trade Commission.

Direct mail, flyers and ads in newspapers and magazines were used to hawk fraudulent schemes for 27 percent of reported incidents, compared with 22 per cent for websites and email. Television and radio came in a close third at 21 per cent. Telemarketing accounted for nine per cent, according to the US government agency.

The survey counted only scams that American citizens fell victim to, rather than attempted scams that nobody bought. This may explain why most of us can produce dozens of internet-borne come-ons trying to fool us into giving up banking credentials, but comparatively few printed materials aimed at defrauding us. Still, the statistical survey of fraud in the US is a reminder that internet is a vehicle for only a small portion of the schemes that defraud.

Fraudulent weight-loss products hoodwinked 4.8 million people, making them the most common form of fraud. Tying for second with 3.2 million were foreign lottery scams and buyers' club memberships. In foreign lottery scams, consumers are told they have won a lottery they never entered, but must surrender personal information or a pay a fee to receive their winnings. Victims of phony club memberships are billed for the privilege of joining.

Ranking third, fourth and fifth respectively were: Fraudulent prize promotions, which fail to deliver a promised reward in exchange for making a purchase or attending a sales presentation; work-at-home programs, in which the victim earned less than was promised; and pitches for phony credit-card insurance.

In all, 30.2 million US adults - 13.5 per cent of the adult population - were victims of fraud over a 12-month period that started in November 2004. So it is entirely possible that the internet has assumed greater weight in than other mediums in fraudsters' schemes since then.

The FTC's report summary is available here. ®

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