Web spider catches scams and schemes

Illegal scams and schemes promoted on the Internet will now catch the eye of Scamseek, an Internet-document classification system developed with the assistance of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

The Scamseek project had a $2.2 million budget with joint funding from ASIC, the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre (CMCRC), Security Markets Automated Research Training and Surveillance and the University of Sydney and Macquarie University.

Scamseek is Australia’s largest research project in language technology, according to a spokesman, and has been developed in two phases, including a 16-month trial.

The first phase aimed to perform document classification of Internet pages that publish financial advice by unregistered advisers and illegal investment schemes. The second stage created a unified document classifier involving a Web spider that searches the Internet 24x7 for potential scam sites, which are then fed into the classifier.

These sorts of Web sites were previously identified through manual searches.

Scamseek can then assess and aggregate the risk associated with information on a Web site, identify people and companies mentioned within the text and mark sites for further analysis that are above the acceptable risk threshold.

According to ASIC director of enforcement Keith Inman, the Internet has become an increasingly popular tool for illegal schemes because of the vast number of people it can reach in a very short space of time, without ever having direct contact with investors.

“Before the development of Scamseek, ASIC [staff] would manually trawl the Internet for financial advice by unregistered advisers, illegal investment schemes, financial services scams and stock market tipsters attempting to manipulate the prices of shares,” Inman said.

Results from trials conducted using Scamseek have been positive, and a number of suspicious Web sites have been identified as potential scams or illegal schemes, the spokesman said. ASIC recently took action against Gramax Investment Club for allegedly operating unlicensed investment clubs promoted via the Internet.

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