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Joint task force cracks down on Internet crime

In the high-stakes battle between cyber cops and robbers, good guys from across the globe are banding together to pursue "dot-con artists."

In the high-stakes battle between cyber cops and robbers, good guys from across the globe are banding together to pursue "dot-con artists."

The Federal Trade Commission is spearheading a joint task force that is targeting the 10 scams most perpetrated over the Internet, the FTC said Tuesday. The law enforcement group includes four other U.S. agencies, 23 states, and consumer-protection groups from nine countries.

The group began forming a year ago and so far this year has brought 251 actions against accused online scammers as part of its "Operation Top Ten Dot Cons."

Among the top 10 Net crimes are auction and health care fraud, pyramid and travel scams, and phony Internet service schemes.

The 251 cases are only a fraction of the more than 285,000 consumer complaints that the FTC has received. Security analysts have said that the Internet makes it easier for cyber criminals to evade detection and avoid law enforcement.

The 10 scams most perpetrated on the Internet

• Internet auction fraud

• Internet service provider scams

• Web site design/promotions: Web cramming

• Internet information and adult services: credit card cramming

• Multilevel marketing/pyramid scams

• Business opportunities and work-at-home scams

• Investment schemes and get-rich-quick scams

• Travel/vacation fraud

• Telephone/pay-per-call solicitation fraud (including modem dialers and videotext)

• Health care fraud

Source: FTC

For that reason, some analysts have compared the Web to a virtual Dodge City.

"The Net does make it easier for scam artists to hide," said FTC attorney Marianne Schwanke, "but we are staying on top of the latest technology to track them down."

As proof of that, the FTC announced that it brought 18 new actions Tuesday. Among them were allegations that defendants auctioned goods over the Web and received payment, but never delivered the items. Several companies charged customers' credit cards though the customer never ordered any goods.

Among the most prevalent scams are offers of a luxurious vacation, after which consumers find lower-quality accommodations than promised or no trip at all, the FTC said. To avoid this trap, consumers should get references on any travel company that they do business with.

In a so-called Web cramming case, scam artists used a bait-and-switch tactic. The con artists mail a $3.50 "rebate" check that, when cashed, unwittingly allows the company to charge the customers as their Internet service provider. A variation on that has customers agree to a "free" Web page, and then the con artists start billing for phone service without authorization.

Another popular scheme among dot-con artists is to promise consumers that they can be their own boss and earn big bucks. They promise large earnings to consumers if they join the company, but the money never materializes. The FTC suggests consumers get all promises in writing and study any contracts they sign carefully.

"All the organizations have the same goal and that is to protect consumers online," said the FTC's Schwanke. "Even though they operate with different missions or regulations, having consumer protection as a rallying point helps get everybody on board."