Federal authorities have rounded up and arrested more than 125 individuals on charges including identity theft and computer intrusion as part of a nationwide crackdown on Internet crime, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday.
The ongoing dragnet, known as Operation Cyber Sweep, is targeting a variety of online economic crimes involving fraud, software piracy and the fencing of stolen goods.
During a press announcement Thursday about the charges involved, federal officials said Allan E. Carlson of Glendale, Calif., was indicted on charges of hacking into computers of unsuspecting users across the country to launch spam e-mail attacks criticizing the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. Carlson, a disgruntled Phillies fan, was also charged with identity theft for illegally using the e-mail address of reporters at Philadelphia newspapers.
In another case, Helen Carr of Akron, Ohio, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess unauthorized access devices, officials said. The indictment said the defendant engaged in “phishing” by sending fake e-mail messages to America Online customers, advising that they must update their credit card/personal information on file with AOL to maintain their accounts.
Officials said in another case, 21-year-old K.C. Smith of Davie, Florida was sentenced to 14 months in prison after pleading guilty to two felony charges of securities fraud. Smith admitted to using the Internet to promote a fraudulent scheme that promised investors high returns on their “international tax-free” investments in the “Maryland Investment Club,” a fictitious enterprise.
The crackdown was coordinated by 34 U.S. Attorneys’ offices nationwide, the FBI, the Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. State, local and even foreign law enforcement agencies are also taking part.
Since Oct. 1, when the sweep began, federal officials have served more than 90 search and seizure warrants, which they said resulted in more than 70 indictments to date. As part of the operation, investigators said they have investigated crimes against more than 125,000 victims whose estimated losses from the scams totaled more than $100 million.
“Online criminals assume that they can conduct their schemes with impunity,” Ashcroft said at a Washington press conference. “Operation Cyber Sweep is proving them wrong, by piercing the criminals’ cloak of anonymity and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Cyber crime will continue to be one of the FBI’s highest priorities for the foreseeable future,” said FBI Assistant Director Jana Monroe. “The results of Operation Cyber Sweep should send a clear warning to those criminals who exploit technology and use the Internet to commit criminal acts. The FBI, in conjunction with our law enforcement and private sector partners, will move swiftly and aggressively to pursue these criminals worldwide.”
According to Ashcroft, Operation Cyber Sweep was launched in response to an increase in the reporting of Internet-related complaints to federal agencies.
The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), a joint project of the FBI and the National White-Collar Crime Center, reported that in the first nine months of this year, it referred 58,392 Internet-related fraud complaints to law enforcement. In contrast, in all of 2002, the IFCC referred about 48,000 Internet-related fraud complaints to law enforcement.
The FTC reported that more than half of the 218,000 fraud complaints it received in 2002 were Internet-related fraud complaints.