Internet crime up 33 percent

Is it a sign of these tough economic times or something much more sinister? The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) says it received over 275,000 complaints last year—up from nearly 207,000 reported cybercrime complaints in 2007. (The complete IC3 report is available as a downloadable PDF.) As reported by many web sites (including the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN and even geeky Scientific American), the top complaints were non-delivery of promised merchandise, followed by auction fraud, credit card fraud and investment scams. The estimated loss from such online fraud was nearly $265 million in the U.S. last year—up nearly 11 percent from 2007 ($239 million).

The takeaway: Safeguarding the data on your personal computer (and thus protecting your privacy and identity) doesn't have to be hard—or expensive. Consumer Reports tested the performance of several popular security software programs, and found a few free computer protection programs, easily accessible from the Net. We also offer free tips and advice in our Guide to Online Safety and our Online Security Blog, which warns of the possible dangers of the Conficker worm on April Fools' Day. And if you've been a victim of a cybercrime, we'd like to know. (See: Hit by cybercrime? Tell us your story.)