In the largest ever international law enforcement project to fight fraud on the Internet, 150 organizations in 28 countries, including seven U.S. federal agencies, 49 state and local consumer protection agencies, 34 attorneys general and 39 Better Business Bureaus, have swept the Internet, targeting phony get-rich-quick schemes.
The operation, dubbed “GetRichQuick.Con,” was conducted primarily during the week of Feb. 28. Members of the project surfed the Internet, looking for bogus work-at-home offers, business opportunity scams, pyramid schemes, illegal lotteries and other sites offering easy riches.
When a suspicious promotion was discovered, a team member anywhere in the world would send information and evidence on it directly to a Federal Trade Commission-administered database through a password-protected Web site.
The Securities and Exchange Commission's CyberForce staff, charged with monitoring the Internet for violation of U.S. securities laws, ran across 100 suspect Internet get-rich-quick schemes in the sweep, 90 of which were referred to the FTC for further monitoring, an SEC official said.
“The types of schemes we uncovered varied, ranging from multilevel marketing schemes to chain letters to offshore investment clubs,'' said Richard Walker, director of the SEC's enforcement division. “Their common thread, though, was inflated promises of unrealistic gains.”
Warning e-mails are now being sent to the targeted sites, with hyperlinks to the partners' consumer and business education materials at www.consumer.gov — a U.S. government Web site developed and hosted by the FTC that contains information for consumers from 140 federal government sites.
“Internet con artists are bad actors without borders,” said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We want them to know that the borderless Internet marketplace is not a free zone.”
The law enforcers will continue to monitor the sites to see if they've changed their claims in response to the e-mail and will undertake a coordinated law enforcement effort to shut down sites that demonstrate they won't comply with the law.
“This operation shows state, federal and international law enforcement can and will fight fraud as the new frontier of the Internet opens up,” said Washington state Attorney General Christine Gregoire. “We intend to develop the tools and cooperative agreements needed to help protect consumers.”