FTC Expands Fraud Prevention Program

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The Federal Trade Commission expanded its fraud prevention program last week to give law enforcement agencies increased access to reports of consumer fraud.

More than 100 local Better Business Bureau offices, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the attorneys general from all states have agreed to contribute information to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database. The database contains more than 250,000 complaints of consumer fraud that have been filed with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and private organizations, including the FTC; the BBBs; the National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center and Internet Fraud Watch projects; and Canada's Project Phone Busters, an organization that targets telemarketing fraud.

More than 240 law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada can access the database through an encrypted Web site to determine whether a particular fraudulent scheme is local, national or cross-border in nature. It also will help agencies spot larger trends for law enforcement action.

"Cooperation is the key to law enforcement in the 21st century," said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Consumer Sentinel facilitates interaction among law enforcers across North America, thereby serving a unique function on behalf of consumers."

Consumer Sentinel, which has been online for more than two years, provides a variety of tools to help law enforcement investigate fraud and ultimately prosecute illegal activity. In addition to the complaint database, Sentinel features include analysis of data to determine trends in fraud, an index of fraudulent telemarketing sales pitches available from the National Tape Library, a compilation of companies already sued for fraud, and a catalog of companies under investigation. In addition, Consumer Sentinel offers a contact list as well as how-to information to help agencies coordinate action. The complaints cover fraud and deception relating to telemarketing, direct mail and the Internet.

Chief Postal Inspector Kenneth C. Weaver said, "For years, the [U.S. Postal] Inspection Service has used our own Mail Fraud Complaint System to generate investigations and protect consumers. ... The combined strengths of enforcement agencies, however, sharing complaint information and working together, provides us with a knockout punch against fraud."

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