Talk about a fastball to the head.

With the economy in the dumpster and his freelance writing business in free fall, Tony Curcio went looking for a new challenge and change of pace.

What he found was a bogus job offer from a scam artist who looked a lot like a famous baseball player and went by the name of a man who’s been dead since 1881.

Eventually it cost him nearly $4,000 and perfect copies of his passport and birth certificate.

Curcio is hardly alone in falling for an Internet scam. Every day, fraud artists around the globe flood unsuspecting victims with enticing offers designed to steal your identity and your money.

In North America alone, identity theft reached $49.3 billion in 2006, according to a study done by Javelin Strategy & Research and paid for by Visa, Wells Fargo and CheckFree Corp.

“I can live with the embarrassment of being scammed, but the reason I’m coming forward is to hopefully to warn others not to fall like I did,” said Curcio.