FTC announces results of Net fraud sweep

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced results from an international law enforcement sweep aimed at squashing deceptive spam and Internet fraud, reporting Tuesday that 63 cases have been brought against Net scams involving matters such as phony cancer cures and e-mail investment schemes in the last six months.

The efforts were made by the FTC's Netforce, a group of eight U.S. and Canadian state law enforcement agencies concentrating on tracking down perpetrators of deceptive e-mail and Internet fraud.

While some of the cases involved e-mail pyramid schemes looking to fleece consumers of cash, others were more damaging, such as the case filed against David L. Walker, who is charged with selling fake cancer cures on his Web site.

"This cancer cure was pitched like snake oil on the Internet," Washington state Attorney General Christine Gregoire said Tuesday during a conference call on the sweep.

The FTC has won an injunction against Walker and his site has been taken down.

The Washington, D.C., federal agency launched a high-tech unit two years ago to track down cyber criminals, and then kicked off the Netforce as an extension of those efforts. The FTC said that it hopes to increase the number of state law enforcement agencies participating in Netforce to stymie the growing amount of Net fraud.

"Since Internet fraud knows no boundaries, partnership is the name of the game," Gregoire said.

The agency is also aggressively fighting against deceptive spam and has launched a consumer education campaign aimed at making consumers more aware of potentially harmful spam practices. Spam is unsolicited bulk e-mail. The FTC spam fact sheet can be found on the agency's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/online/spam.htm. The FTC has encouraged consumers to forward any suspicious spam to the agency and has received more then 10 million spam messages from the public since Jan. 1, 1998, FTC officials said. Consumers sent 1 million spam e-mail messages to the FTC in March alone.

While the 63 cases lodged by Netforce is a good start, the FTC concedes that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Internet fraud. FTC officials have said that consumers should educate themselves on the kind of deceptive practices occurring on the Web in order to avoid falling into common traps.

"The scams are often very familiar, but the Internet often poses a major challenge to enforcement," Gregoire said.

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Scarlet Pruitt

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