Over the past 40 years, only one new entry has been added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) roster of "Top 10" investment scams - the very broad category of "Internet fraud."
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The other financial rip-offs listed are merely new versions of tried and true swindles that have been around for decades or more - from Ponzi schemes and pyramid systems to phony stock offerings and commodity cons.
The big difference is that the one new category - Internet fraud - has greatly increased the frequency, speed and effectiveness of the other types of financial fraud, as well as exponentially increasing the scammers' take.
In 2009, there were 6,062 robberies of physical bank offices and branches, netting the perpetrators a total of $45.9 million in loot, more than $8 million of which was recovered by law enforcement officials. By contrast, there were more than 14,000 reported (and countless unreported) online attacks on banks and bank customers, with the estimated loss exceeding $110 million, almost none of which was recovered.
In addition, where physical bank theft is local, online robbery is global. MSNBC recently reported that a ring of cyber thieves based in Eastern Europe had used a so-called Trojan horse computer program to steal more than $1 million from the accounts of more than 3,000 British bank customers in just four weeks - and, even though the banks had identified the problem, they weren't able to immediately stop the thefts.
That mirrored an even broader rip-off of banks and their customers...