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FTC leads global crackdown on Net fraud

Federal government officials say they have joined with international forces to crack down on Internet fraud--and use the Web to do it.

The Federal Trade Commission said it has joined forces with international law organizations to battle fraud on the Internet, using the worldwide network itself to target sites offering get-rich-quick schemes.

The effort is the largest international law enforcement project to fight fraud on the Internet, the FTC said. About 150 organizations in 28 countries, including seven U.S. federal agencies and 49 state and local consumer protection agencies, have swept across the Web looking for offers and deals that seem too good to be true. Attorneys general from 34 states, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and 39 Better Business Bureaus also joined in the project.

"Internet con artists are bad actors without borders," said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We want them to know that the borderless Internet marketplace is not a free zone."

The surf project, dubbed "GetRichQuick.Con," was conducted primarily during the week of Feb. 28 by organizations as diverse as the Hong Kong Consumer Council and the University of Texas Law School. Members in the sting operation surfed the Net looking for questionable work-at-home offers, business opportunities, pyramid schemes, illegal lotteries and other sites offering easy riches.

The initiative relied heavily on the Internet, with team members recruited by email. The law enforcement partners used a step-by-step manual for surfing and collecting evidence.

The data that was collected on suspicious promotions was logged into a database run by the FTC in Washington. Email warnings are being sent to 1,600 sites.

"If these bad actors can use this new technology to deceive consumers, we can use it to catch them," Bernstein said.

Project members will continue to monitor the sites to see if they've changed their claims after receiving the email warning and will try to shut down sites that haven't complied.