US Federal law enforcement agencies Thursday announced the arrests or convictions of 125 people and the return of 70 indictments in a coordinated nationwide enforcement operation designed to crack down on the leading types of online fraud.
The ongoing operation, known as Operation Cyber Sweep, was spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Justice in coordination with numerous federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies.
The investigation targeted a variety of online economic crimes that involved schemes including fraud, software piracy and the fencing of stolen goods.
Since Operation Cyber Sweep began on Oct. 1, investigators have uncovered more than 125,000 victims who have incurred losses of more than US$100 million.
"Online criminals assume that they can conduct their schemes with impunity," said Attorney General John Ashcroft in the statement. "Operation Cyber Sweep is proving them wrong, by piercing the criminals' cloak of anonymity and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law."
The cases included:
- One man who admitted to obtaining stolen credit card numbers from various individuals and used the information to purchase more than $80,000 in computer equipment and electronic devices from Kent, Conn.-based Outpost.com.
- A 21-year-old man who pleaded guilty to two felony charges of securities fraud and was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
- Another man who was indicted on charges of hacking into computers across the country to launch spam e-mail attacks criticizing the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. He was also charged with identity theft for illegally using the e-mail address of reporters at Philadelphia newspapers.
- And a woman who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possessing unauthorized access devices. The defendant engaged in "phishing" by sending fake e-mail messages to America Online customers, advising them to update their credit card and personal information on file with AOL to maintain their accounts. "Cybercrime will continue to be one of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's highest priorities for the foreseeable future," said FBI Assistant Director Jana Monroe in the statement.
Operation Cyber Sweep was launched in response to an increase in the reporting of Internet-related complaints to federal agencies.
In the first nine months of 2003, the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, a joint project of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, referred 58,392 Internet-related fraud complaints to law enforcement officials. That compared to 48,000 Internet-related fraud complaints referred to law enforcement in all of 2002.
As part of the effort, ClearCommerce Corp. has provided information to the FBI about fraudsters that have preyed on some its members' customers as well as the various ways they're perpetrating online fraud, according to Katherine Hutchison, a spokeswoman for ClearCommerce.
ClearCommerce is a founding member of the Merchant Risk Council, a group of merchants fighting online fraud.