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Fraud Meets Its Match on Internet

Several public and private organizations banded together to launch a new anti-Internet fraud initiative for consumers, officials announced Monday.

The FBI, Monster Worldwide , the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Target Corp. and the Merchant Risk Council established LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com, a Web site containing a variety of educational tools to keep consumers safe from fraudsters.

The site is part of a larger initiative by the group to educate consumers of the dangers that come when personal information or unsafe surfing practices lead to identity theft and stolen credit cards and identities.

"In this virtual world, every day is Halloween," said Lee Heath, chief postal inspector at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, at a press conference. "Cyber-criminals hide behind their masks concealing their identities, holding out an ample bag of tricks and very few treats for legitimate consumers."

In many ways, the site is a conglomeration of educational materials already found on the Internet, notably the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) OnGuardOnline.gov Web site. Both feature glossaries with definitions of the latest Internet scourges, consumer tips for safe online practices and methods for reporting cases of Internet fraud.

LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com has a Web page to file a complaint by either sending them to the FTC's complaint site or to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service or NW3C's Internet Crime Complaint Center (I3C). The glossary of terms provides an overview of the latest scams and provides links to more information at other government agencies.

What the new site does provide, however, are seven interactive online tests to help you determine whether you're getting bilked by a fraudster. The yes/no questions, depending on the answer, trigger a thermometer that displays how much of a risk factor is involved with such things as replying to e-mails from strangers listing Social Security numbers on personal checks or not backing up your computer.

According to Louis Reigel, assistant director of the FBI's cyber division, the number of reported fraud incidents has risen dramatically in recent times; consumers have lodged more than 207,000 complaints to the I3C in 2004 -- a 66 percent jump from 2003 -- totaling $68 million in estimated losses.

He views the new Web site as another tool in fighting the spread of phishing attacks, spam and the like.

"If we fall behind or come behind as a law enforcement agency, we're never going to catch up," he said. "If we can get out front and use prevention as a means to do this, we will -- with our partners in industry -- be very, very successful."



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