More than 565 people in North America and Europe have been arrested in an international sweep that targeted marketing fraud using the Internet and other means, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday.
The international operation, called Operation Global Con, targeted lottery and sweepstakes schemes, offers of nonexistent investments, bogus offers of pre-approved credit cards and fee scams similar to the popular Nigerian banking schemes, the DOJ said. Fraudsters used various means, including the Internet, telemarketing and mass mail, to target victims, the DOJ said.
The ongoing operation started March 1. The 96 separate U.S. investigations in the operation found 2.8 million victims who suffered losses totalling more than US $1 billion, the DOJ said.
The fraudsters believe they can “use modern technology to operate from anywhere in the world with impunity,” said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in a statement.
So far, the operation has led to the arrest of 139 people in the U.S., and an additional 426 arrests in Canada, Costa Rica, the Netherlands and Spain. Authorities executed 447 search warrants in the five countries as part of the operation, and 61 people have been convicted in the U.S. so far, the DOJ said. In addition, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has brought 20 civil actions against 140 defendants in illegal fraud schemes.
Last week, Costa Rican agents, working with U.S. officials, conducted a series of arrests and searches that targeted so-called boiler-room operations. These operations used Internet-based telephony and mobile phones to contact prospective victims in the U.S., purporting to be from nonexistent organizations such as the Sweepstakes Security Commission, to offer nonexistent sweepstakes winnings of as much as $4.5 million, the DOJ said. Victims were expected, in return, to pay insurance fees. Some victims who made the payments would then be recontacted by participants in the schemes, who pretended to be Costa Rican or U.S. customs authorities demanding payment of additional customs fees or taxes.
U.S. victims of Internet fraud schemes should file complaints online with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a joint project of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center, at IC3.gov. Victims of telemarketing fraud should contact the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel, at FTC.gov.