New center targets Internet fraud

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The Justice Department on Monday announced creation of a center where the FBI and other authorities will collect and analyze consumer complaints about suspected fraud on the Internet.

Attorney General Janet Reno said the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) have created the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), along with a secure Web site, to assist people who fall victim to illegal get-rich-quick schemes, con artists and other criminals who use the Internet to advance their operations.

The goal of the center is to provide a "one-stop-shopping approach" to identifying Internet fraud — such as online auctions of bogus items and undelivered computer hardware and software ordered at Web sites — and referring them to the proper agency for prosecution, Reno said at a news conference at Justice.

"Law enforcement authorities have told us they need a nationwide method to gather and review these types of Internet-related complaints," Reno said.

Last year, Americans filed nearly 18,000 complaints with the Federal Trade Commission about various types of Internet consumer fraud, and daily they file 200 to 300 complaints about possible securities fraud schemes on the Internet with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Reno said.

The IFCC's role will be to pursue crimes in which a computer is used as a tool to facilitate an illegal activity taking place at a Web site, in an Internet chat room or via e-mail, said Ruben Garcia, the FBI's assistant director in charge of the criminal division.

That will differentiate its work from the National Infrastructure Protection Center, another federal operation whose task is more security-related. For example, the NIPC, which is part of the FBI, tracks the activities of hackers, including denial-of-service attacks that can cripple Web sites by overloading them with e-mail messages.

Although the FTC also has a project aimed at tracking down fraudulent schemes on the Internet, the IFCC will encourage more cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and help the FBI play a more pivotal role, Reno said.

The IFCC's office is in a federal facility in Morgantown, W.Va. Twelve FBI officials eventually will be employed there, as well as 25 NW3C employees. It will receive between $5 million and $6 million from the $12 million annual budget of the NW3C.

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