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US government cracks down on internet fraud

More than 130 people have been arrested and $17m worth of property seized in an internet fraud sweep by three US government agencies.

The action - by the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) - included arrests for credit-card fraud, internet auction fraud, theft of satellite television signals, identify theft and a bogus internet investment service.

The initiative, Operation E-Con, began issuing indictments in January. Forty-eight people have so far been charged and 12 have pleaded guilty, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

"Cyber swindles and dot cons present new challenges to law enforcement," US attorney general John Ashcroft said in a statement. "The internet enables criminals to cloak themselves in anonymity, making it imperative that law enforcement act more quickly to stop newly emerging schemes before the perpetrators can disappear in the World Wide Web."

The more inventive schemes alleged by the government agencies included a California defendant who was charged with six counts of wire fraud, relating to an alleged scheme to steal nearly $600,000 of computer equipment from businesses in Massachusetts and California.

According to the indictment, the defendant set up a fictitious corporation, complete with a full-featured website, and a sham escrow company.

Two Maryland defendants are charged with devising a scheme to lure unsuspecting bank customers to "spoofed" bank websites, where victims would enter confidential account data. The defendants then would use the data to produce and fraudulently use ATM and credit cards.

Two California defendants have been indicted on fraud- and money laundering-related charges after creating an "investment club" which allegedly netted more than $60m from 15,000 investors worldwide.

The club's website allegedly guaranteed investors a 120% annual rate of return with "no risk of losing the investor’s principal investment", as well as substantial referral fees for directing others to the website. However, the club never invested any of the victims' money.

Instead, the funds were allegedly used by the two defendants and others to purchase property in Mexico and Costa Rica, as well as a yacht and helicopter, and to funnel money to dozens of shell companies created in Costa Rica.

Five Pennsylvania defendants have been indicted on a charge of conspiracy, relating to their allegedly obtaining identification information from a municipal tax office, where the defendants were employed as janitors. The defendants then allegedly used that information to apply for credit cards over the internet.

Two California defendants were indicted for one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 41 counts of wire fraud. By posing as Russian or Ukrainian women seeking a romantic relationship, the two allegedly cheated 400 victims of at least $600,000 over three years.


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