People across the Washington region lost millions of dollars to online scammers last year, who roped in victims with fake romances, hoax emails from the FBI and claims of cars-for-sale that didn't exist.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center's annual report says Virginians reported $11.3 million in losses from online fraud in 2011. Marylanders said they took $8.1 million in losses, and District residents were duped out of $1.8 million.
The center, known as IC3, tracks reports of cybercrime and refers cases to law enforcement.
The D.C. region appears to be a hot spot for online fraud: The District had the highest number of complaints per 100,000 people, and Maryland and Virginia both also ranked in the top 10.
That might be because so many people in the highly connected area are heavy Internet users, on their computers and on smartphones, said John Everett, spokesman for the National White Collar Crime Center, which partners with the FBI to run the IC3.
Some scams are more lucrative for criminals than others.
Authorities said they're seeing more "romance scams," in which victims are targeted through dating or social-networking sites and message boards. A relationship develops, and the scammer then asks for money, saying he or she wants to visit the victim or needs help overcoming some financial difficulty.
"Because they have developed a relationship, often romantic, with their victim, there's more trust there," said John Breyault, director of the National Consumers League's fraud center.
People nationwide lost $50 million through such scams last year, the highest amount for any type of fraud, Everett said. Victims in romance-fraud schemes were scammed out of an average of $8,900 each, according to the report.
Those numbers are so high because people are duped into paying for relatively expensive items like plane tickets or medical procedures, FBI spokeswoman Jenny Shearer said.
In total, 825 online scam reports were filed in D.C. last year, 6,299 in Maryland and 8,499 in Virginia. The District and Virginia had increases in complaints of 6 and 13 percent from 2010, while Maryland recorded a 7 percent decrease. The nation saw a 3 percent rise.
Breyault said a steady rise in reports of online fraud is happening because scammers are getting more adept and people are becoming more likely to file complaints. In the past, he said, victims often didn't know what to do or were embarrassed to report they had been fooled.