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Operation E-Con

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More than 130 people were arrested and $17 million in assets seized in a US crackdown in Internet fraud announced last Friday.

Codenamed Operation E-Con, the bust is coordinated by 43 United States Attorney's Offices nationwide, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Secret Service, and Customs Enforcement and a number of other federal state and local law enforcement agencies both in the US and a number of other countries worldwide.

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

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Internet-related fraud has grown from 31 per cent of fraud complaints three years ago to account for almost half (47 per cent) of the 218,000 fraud complaints filed last year. This trend is expected to continue.

"Cyber swindles and dot cons present new challenges to law enforcement," said Attorney General John 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."

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.

Last week alone, federal agents 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.

"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," said FBI Director Robert Mueller.

"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."

The FBI has published a breakdown of the various scams targeted by Operation E-Con here. ®

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