United States government officials are joining those in ten Midwestern states in cracking down on Internet scam artists. A new task force is taking action against 19 scams officials say have cheated people out of millions of dollars.
Last year, unemployed secretary Barbara Milligan of Chicago answered an Internet advertisement from a company offering to pay about $700 a week to people willing to stuff envelopes at home. "I had been looking for ways to supplement income," she said. "I had been unemployed for awhile and this one really looked real."
She sent the company www.stuffingforcash.com $40-dollars and says what she got was material to help attract other people to the company's scam. "I got ten fliers, something you could post on telephone poles. Just pieces of paper," she said. "You were supposed to write your own home information on there so people could send self-addressed stamped envelopes to your home."
Ms. Milligan complained to the Better Business Bureau and has since gotten a refund, but Steven Baker of the Federal Trade Commission Chicago office says most of this company's victims were not so lucky. "This operation, we found out, has taken in more than $2 million in the last year from consumers all over the country. At $40 apiece, obviously you are talking about tens of thousands of consumers."
Mr. Baker says www.stuffingforcash.com is one of 19 Internet scam artists targeted by the new Midwest Netforce Internet Fraud Initiative. It is made up of the Federal Trade Commission, four other federal agencies, attorneys general from ten Midwestern states and several local law enforcement agencies. The agencies share a database and work together to track and stop Internet scams. The task force has been successful in getting the assets of www.stuffingforcash.com frozen, and its Web site has been shut down pending a trial.
The group has also filed criminal charges against individuals and companies involved in phony Internet auctions, fake businesses and deceptive securities trading. In some cases, people paid thousands of dollars for things like computers or automobiles that were never delivered.
Mr. Baker of the Federal Trade Commission says the popularity of the Internet has made it very attractive to crooks looking to make money off unsuspecting people. He says increasingly, these scams are operated from other countries. "I would certainly urge consumers to be cautious about sending money to other countries," says Mr. Baker. "We have had people send money for laptops [computers] to Ukraine recently, and they didn't get them. And there is very little we can do for them in those circumstances."
The U.S. government's Internet Fraud Complaint Center says most Internet scams originating outside U.S. borders come from Nigeria, Canada, Romania and the United Kingdom. Officials urge Internet users anywhere in the world to be wary of any solicitation offering big returns for little money, or of any that ask for cash or a bank account number.