RealTime IT News

DoJ Nabs 103 in Online Crime Sweep

WASHINGTON -- More than a hundred individuals have been arrested and charged this summer in a federal computer and Internet-related crime sweep known as Operation Web Snare, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said today.

The operation was launched on June 1 and concluded today with several arrests. In all, Ashcroft said, approximately 350 individuals were targeted for major forms of online economic crime and other cybercrimes, resulting in 103 arrests and 53 convictions.

"Operation Web Snare is the largest and most successful collaborative law enforcement operation ever conducted to prosecute online fraud, stop identity theft and prevent other computer-related crimes," Ashcroft said.

Thursday's announcement marked the second consecutive day Ashcroft held a media briefing to tout the Department of Justice's (DoJ) online anti-crime efforts. Wednesday, he said search warrants had been issued in the DOJ's first criminal probe of copyright theft on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

Ashcroft said Thursday the summer-long investigations revealed the "continuing internationalization of Internet fraud."

Of the 30 case summaries presented to the media, many of them previously reported, six involved foreign nationals or U.S. citizens originally from Morocco, Pakistan, China, Korea, Romania and Nigeria.

In one of the most recent cases, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles charged Jie Dong last week in the largest PayPal and eBay fraud scheme to date. The DoJ considers Dong, who has subsequently fled the country and is at large, a "skilled Internet fraudster"; he allegedly stole more than $800,000 from unwitting victims. The DoJ claims Dong conducted more than 5,000 fraudulent sales to eBay customers in just four months.

In another case, Jay R. Echouafni, CEO of Massachusetts-based Orbit Communications, was indicted Wednesday along with five other individuals on multiple charges of conspiracy and causing damage to protected computers. According to the DoJ, Echouafni and a business partner launched "relentless" Denial-of-Service attacks on Orbit's competitors.

Using the services of computer hackers in Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio and the United Kingdom, the DoJ claims the attacks caused more than $2 million in damage to competitors in revenue and costs associated with responding to the attacks. Echouafni, a U.S. citizen of Moroccan origin, has subsequently fled the United States and is the target of what the FBI characterizes an "international manhunt."

Also on the run is Calin Mateias, an alleged Romanian computer hacker who was charged earlier this month with conspiring to steal more than $10 million in computer equipment from Ingram Micro in Santa Ana, Calif. The indictment claims Mateias, a Bucharest resident, hacked into Ingram's online ordering system and placed fraudulent orders for computers and related equipment.

The DoJ says Mateias then had the equipment sent to dozens of addresses throughout the United States as part of an Internet fraud scheme. Mateias's U.S. co-defendants would in turn allegedly either sell the equipment and send the proceeds to Mateias or repackage the equipment and send it to Romania.

In a case where the DoJ successfully extradited a Cyprus citizen, Roman Vega of the Ukraine is facing a 40-count indictment alleging credit card trafficking and wire fraud. The DoJ claims Vega used Internet chat rooms to gather thousands of individuals' credit card information, which had been illegally obtained from sources around the world, including credit card processors and merchants. The DoJ also alleges Vega operated a Web site where stolen and counterfeit credit card account information was bought and sold.

"Operation Web Snare ... shows that America's justice community is seeking to anticipate, out-think and adapt to new trends in Internet crime," Ashcroft said.