WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, and FTC Chairman Tim Muris announced in May the arrests of more than 130 individuals and the seizure of more than $17 million in a coordinated nationwide initiative focused on reducing one of the most rampant forms of white-collar crime that exists today, Internet fraud and abuse.

The initiative, called Operation E-Con, is being coordinated by 43 United States Attorney's Offices nationwide, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Postal Inspection Service, Secret Service, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement alongside a number of other state and local law enforcement agencies both in the United States and a number of countries around the globe.

Online crimes can include multimillion-dollar swindles, online auction scams, identity theft, business-opportunity frauds, and piracy of software and other copyrighted material.

"Cyber swindles and dot cons present new challenges to law enforcement," said Ashcroft. "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."

"For law enforcement, protecting the virtual world, one with few tamper-proof locks and an endless landscape in which to dust for digital fingerprints, has emerged as one of our most serious and complex challenges," said FBI Director Robert Mueller. "In recent months, the FBI has reshaped its entire cyber program to strengthen our ability to investigate online crime. Operation E-Con is a sign of our growing capabilities and commitment."

"High-tech scam artists who think they can hijack the Internet should think again," said Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff of the Criminal Division. "The Department of Justice will track them down and prosecute them the same way we've gone after traditional hucksters."

"FTC statistics bear out the fact that internet fraud poses an ever-increasing threat to consumers," commented Timothy J. Muris, Federal Trade Commission Chairman. "Just three years ago, 31 percent of fraud complaints filed with the FTC involved the Internet. In 2002, 47 percent of complaints were Internet-related. We anticipate that by the end of this year, Internet-related complaints will represent the majority of fraud complaints received by the FTC."

Chief Postal Inspector Lee Heath said, "You can be certain the Postal Inspection Service will investigate any criminal activity that misuses the United States mail or uses it as a vehicle for victimizing the American public."

Since its recent inception, Operation E-Con has conducted more than 90 investigations involving 89,000 victims and estimated losses of more the $176 million. Additionally, Operation E-Con has executed more than 70 search and seizure warrants that has led to the formal charging or conviction of more than 130 individual subjects.

This week alone, federal agents have arrested 50 people and executed 55 search and seizure warrants that have resulted in 12 guilty pleas and allowed United States Attorneys to charge 48 individuals by indictment, information or criminal complaint.

The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) -- a joint project of the FBI and the National White-Collar Crime Center -- reported in 2002 that it referred more than 48,000 Internet-related fraud complaints to law enforcement.

The FTC has seen a steady increase in both the numbers and the percentages of Internet-related fraud complaints that it has received over the past three years. In 2002, Internet-related fraud complaints made up nearly half of more than 218,000 fraud complaints that the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Database received.

Jim McKay, Editor  |  Editor