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U.S. Agency Cracks Down on Internet Crime

May 16, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government touted dozens of its most important Internet investigations during 2003 in an attempt to demonstrate that the FBI and other agencies are tackling cybercrime seriously despite the ongoing war on terrorism.

The Justice Department dubbed the effort ``Operation E-con,″ a collection of separate investigations over the past five months that targeted investment scams, sales of stolen software, online banking fraud and even a purported Russian marriage service.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, at a news conference Friday, called the program ``a decisive, nationally coordinated effort to root out and take action against some of the leading online, economic crime.″

Officials estimated the collective losses across more than 90 investigations at $176 million, affecting 89,000 victims. The cases involved the FBI, Secret Service, Customs Service, IRS, Postal Inspection Service, Federal Trade Commission and state and local police agencies.

``It’s to demonstrate that we have a commitment,″ said Dan Larkin, the FBI’s senior representative to the Internet Fraud and Complaint Center, based in West Virginia. ``This is of high importance to the American public, who are increasingly finding themselves part of these schemes.″

In one case, suspects used a Web site to sell more than $2 million worth of pharmaceutical drugs without prescriptions or the involvement of any doctors. In another case, approximately 400 victims lost about $3,000 each in a scheme that promised lonely men the hope of marrying a Russian woman.

FBI Director Robert Mueller has repeatedly stressed that cybercrime is among his most urgent priorities. These cases can represent a uniquely difficult category of crimes to solve because they frequently involve overseas connections and digital evidence easy for perpetrators to erase or falsify.

``The Internet enables criminals to cloak themselves in anonymity,″ Ashcroft said.

Friday’s effort also was designed to demonstrate that the FBI retains considerable cybercrime expertise, despite the transfer earlier this year of its flagship National Infrastructure Protection Center to the new Department of Homeland Security.

Despite the loss of its NIPC computer specialists, Mueller has pledged a robust cyber division at FBI headquarters under Assistant FBI Director Jana Monroe. The FBI also has created what Mueller described as 60 specialized cyber squads around the country and is working to put investigators in other countries.

At the news conference, Mueller called the problem of cybercrime ``large and growing,″ noting that complaints increased 300 percent last year to 48,000.

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