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130 arrested in Net fraud crackdown

The arrests are part of a federal initiative, called Operation E-Con, to tackle Internet crimes. The federal effort announces that more than $17 million has been seized.

More than 130 people have been arrested as part of the latest effort by law-enforcement agencies to crack down on Internet fraud, according to the Justice Department.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Tim Muris announced the arrests Friday, and said that more than $17 million was seized.

The arrests were part of a nationwide initiative, called Operation E-Con, that's being coordinated by 43 U.S. attorney's offices, the FBI, the FTC, the Postal Inspection Service, and other state and local law-enforcement agencies within the United States and other countries.

Operation E-Con has carried out more than 70 search warrants, leading to formal charges or convictions in many cases. The operation has performed more than 90 investigations involving 89,000 victims of fraud.

Internet fraud has been growing rapidly, and the Operation E-Con agencies are working to temper its effects.

"Just three years ago, 31 percent of fraud complaints filed with the FTC involved the Internet," Muris said in a statement. "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."

Online auction scams have been one of the leading forms of fraud over the last three years, accounting for 46 percent of complaints referred to law enforcement in 2002. Internet auctioneers have been the target of numerous fraud schemes, ranging from shill bidding, in which sellers bid on their own auctions to artificially jack up the price, to identity-theft schemes.