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Last Updated: Friday, 16 May, 2003, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
US sweep finds $176m of scams
Image of keyboard and handcuffed hands
A US crackdown on investment scams, identity theft and internet fraud has uncovered 89,000 victims conned out of $176m (108m) since the start of the year, US Attorney General John Ashcroft has said.

The cases included allegations of advertising goods or services that did not exist, setting up fake banking websites to collect customer bank account details and non-delivery of items "sold" in online auctions.

There were also cases relating to alleged manufacture and sale of pirate films and other counterfeit goods, Mr Ashcroft said.

One person from California was charged with running an investment scam that collected $60m from 15,000 victims worldwide while a San Diego couple was charged with taking $600,000 in connection with a matchmaking service that promised to find Russian or Ukrainian brides.

Charges against 135 people

Complaints about internet fraud have risen sharply in recent years and now account for more than half of all fraud complaints.

"These cyberswindles and dot-cons present new challenges to law enforcement," Mr Ashcroft said.

"The internet enables criminals to cloak themselves in anonymity, making it imperative that law enforcement act more quickly to stop newly emerging schemes before the perpetrators can disappear in the world wide web."

The five-month crackdown has led to 135 people being charged and the seizure of more than $17m, he said.

Stopping 'spam'

On Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission called for a worldwide effort to close cyberspace loopholes that allowed people to hide their identities when sending unsolicited e-mail, known as spam.

It said it wanted 1,000 so-called "open relays" to be closed, 90% of which were in 16 countries including the US, the UK, France, Germany, China, India and Japan.

"Through this education initiative, we hope organisations throughout the world will shut the door on unwanted spam by securing their servers," said Howard Beales, head of the commission's consumer protection division.

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