Reporting Computer Crime

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). IC3's mission is to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime. The IC3 gives the victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. For law enforcement and regulatory agencies at the federal, state, and local level, IC3 provides a central referral mechanism for complaints involving Internet related crimes.

Computer crime, like any other crime, should be reported to appropriate law enforcement investigative authorities at the local, state, federal, or international levels, depending on the scope of the crime. Citizens who are aware of federal crimes should report them to local offices of federal law enforcement.

The primary federal law enforcement agencies that investigate domestic crime on the Internet include: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) , the United States Secret Service , the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) , the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) . Each of these agencies has offices conveniently located in every state to which crimes may be reported. Contact information regarding these local offices may be found in local telephone directories. In general, federal crime may be reported to the local office of an appropriate law enforcement agency by a telephone call and by requesting the "Duty Complaint Agent."

Each law enforcement agency also has a headquarters (HQ) in Washington, D.C., which has agents who specialize in particular areas. For example, the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service both have headquarters-based specialists in computer intrusion (i.e., computer hacker) cases.

To determine some of the federal investigative law enforcement agencies that may be appropriate for reporting certain kinds of crime, please refer to the following table:

Type of Crime Appropriate federal investigative law enforcement agencies
Computer intrusion (i.e. hacking)
Password trafficking
Counterfeiting of currency
Child Pornography or Exploitation
Child Exploitation and Internet Fraud matters that have a mail nexus
Internet fraud and SPAM
Internet harassment
Internet bomb threats
Trafficking in explosive or incendiary devices or firearms over the Internet


Auction Fraud

Internet auction sites like eBay give buyers a virtual flea market with new and used merchandise from around the world; they give sellers a global storefront from which to market their goods. But the online auction business can be risky business. Among the thousands of consumer fraud complaints the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives every year, those dealing with online auction fraud consistently rank near the top of the list. The complaints generally deal with late shipments, no shipments, or shipments of products that aren't the same quality as advertised; bogus online payment or escrow services; and fraudulent dealers who lure bidders from legitimate auction sites with seemingly better deals. Most complaints involve sellers, but in some cases, the buyers are the subject.

Whether you're a buyer or a seller, understanding how Internet auctions work can help you avoid most problems.

Basic Tips

When browsing through virtual shopping aisles, be sure to use:

  • A secure password. When setting up an account at an online store, don't pick everyday words, family member names, or birth dates. Instead, use combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Also, keep passwords unique from account to account.
  • A secure checkout and payment process. Make sure the online store uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which encrypts sensitive information. Look for the locked padlock icon at the bottom of your browser window to see if you're protected.

Seller Reputation

A little research goes a long way. Take the time to get to know the merchant or seller.

  • Learn about merchants. Look for reviews from other shoppers. Many e-commerce sites, including eBay, have feedback systems that feature comments and ratings from other buyers.
  • Ask questions. Get answers for an item from merchants before you make a purchase or offer. Good communications help ensure a smooth transaction.
  • Look for a refund or return policy. If a policy is not posted, ask the merchant if there is a time-limit to return an item and whether a full refund or merchandise credit is offered.
  • PayPal Verified Sellers. Check for membership status and look for Verified members who have been active for at least 60 days.
  • Determine the shipping charges before you buy. Occasionally, sellers may have an item at very low cost, but use exaggerated shipping charges to draw more money from the buyer.
  • After winning a bid, use a secure payment method like Paypal to pay for your item. PayPal enables you to send payments quickly and securely online using a credit card or bank account. Be wary if the seller only accepts wire transfers or cash.

Item Specifics

When you're considering a particular product, make sure you follow these cautions.

  • High demand/value items. Products that are hard to find or expensive such as computers, jewelry, and electronics, require extra caution. Do additional checks and double-checks before making your purchase. This is especially important during the holidays.
  • Confirm authenticity. For collectibles, such as sports memorabilia, take steps to confirm that the item is authentic.

Common Warning Signs

Indicators that should immediately raise a red flag.

  • Delayed shipping. Do not overlook the advised delivery date.
  • Unsolicited offers. Receiving an unsolicited email from a seller with a similar product that you made an offer on could indicate possible fraud.
  • Too good to be true. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This includes sellers offering very low prices or large quantities of impossible-to-find items.

Dispute Resolution

Auction services like eBay and Paypal provide protection for both buyers and sellers. Both companies have excellent dispute resolution services. If you paid through Paypal, you should use their dispute resolution service which enables both parties to communicate directly with each other to resolve an issue amicably. If you are unable to resolve the dispute, the next step is to file a formal complaint. At this point, depending on fund availability in the seller's account, the funds are frozen for the amount of the transaction. PayPal will contact both parties. If our investigation team finds the claim in favor of the buyer, the amount of the transaction, if available from the seller, will be transferred back to the buyer.

More Information

For more information on Paypal's security services, visit the Paypal Security Center.

For more information on eBay's buyer/ seller protection, and more safety tips, visit the eBay Help Pages.

Internet Auctions: A Guide for Buyers and Sellers (Federal Trade Commission)



Be aware of phishing emails sent to you asking for your password or other personal information that look like they've been sent by an auction website or payment service. Usually, these emails are fishing for your information and are coming from someone who wants to hack into your account.

If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply. And don't click on the link in the message, either. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization mentioned in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company's correct Web address yourself. In any case, don't cut and paste the link from the message into your Internet browser; phishers often make links look like they go to one site, but actually send you somewhere else.



United States Department of Justice- Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section