The arrests and seizures resulted from Operation E-Con, an effort coordinated by 43 United States Attorneys 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.
Auction Scams, Business Frauds and Piracy
Among the alleged online crimes committed by those arrested were 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 Attorney General John Ashcroft in a Justice Department press release. "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," added 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."
We'll 'Track Them Down,' Say Officials
In a press conference announcing the results of Operation E-Con, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff warned high-tech scammers and schemers to "think again" before trying to hijack the Internet. "The Department of Justice will track them down and prosecute them the same way weve gone after traditional hucksters," Chertoff told reporters.
Internet Fraud a Growing Threat
According to FTC statistics, incidents of Internet fraud pose an ever-increasing threat to consumers. Three years ago, 31% of all fraud complaints filed with the FTC involved Internet-based scams. By 2002, that number had grown to 47%. By the end of 2003, the FTC expects Internet-related complaints will account for well over 50% of all fraud complaints filed.
Operation E-Con Statistics
So far, Operation E-Con has initiated more than 90 investigations of complaints filed by 89,000 victims who reported total losses estimated at more than $176 million. In addition, the execution of more than 70 search and seizure warrants has led to the formal charging conviction of more than 130 individuals.
During a single week alone, 55 Operation E-Con searches resulted in the arrests of 50 people, the filing of 48 individual indictments and 12 guilty pleas.
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.