FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE |
THURSDAY, AUGUST 26, 2004
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCES OPERATION WEB SNARE
TARGETING ONLINE FRAUD AND CRIME
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Attorney General John Ashcroft, Assistant Attorney General Christopher A. Wray, FBI Assistant Director Jana Monroe, Chief Postal Inspector Lee Heath, and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras today announced the arrests or convictions of more than 150 individuals and the return of 117 criminal complaints, indictments, and informations in a collaborative nationwide enforcement operation directed at major forms of online economic crime and other cybercrimes.
The ongoing action, which included arrests of several people earlier today, is known as Operation Web Snare. This initiative involved coordination among 36 U.S. Attorneys’ offices nationwide, the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, 37 of the FBI's 56 field divisions, 13 of the Postal Inspection Service's 18 field divisions, the FTC, together with a variety of other federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies.
Attorney General Ashcroft also announced that he has directed the various Justice Department offices to make full use of the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, signed into law by President Bush on July 15. The Act prescribes stiff prison terms for those who use identity theft to commit other crimes. The Attorney General’s directive instructs law enforcement to use the Act’s provisions in any appropriate investigation or prosecution involving identity theft, including fraud, organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism-related matters.
Operation Web Snare is targeting a variety of online economic crimes including identity theft, fraud, counterfeit software, computer intrusions, and other intellectual property crimes. The cases involved show the extent to which alleged online criminal activity increasingly is not only multi-jurisdictional, but involves the blending of traditional crimes with various forms of computer crime, such as computer intrusion and malicious computer programs.
“Operation Web Snare also shows that America’s justice community is seeking to anticipate, out think and adapt to new trends in Internet crime,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “This effort shows how effective law enforcement can be against online crime when all levels of government -- domestically and internationally -- work together.”
More than 160 investigations have been opened as part of Web Snare, which ran from June 1 to August 26, 2004. Investigators have identified more than 150,000 victims with estimated losses of more than $215 million. More than 140 search and seizure warrants were executed as part of the
operation, and prosecutors have obtained 117 criminal complaints, informations, and indictments to date. The charges have led to more than 150 arrests or convictions.
Some of the charges filed in districts throughout the country include:
“The wide range of investigations included in Operation Web Snare reflects law enforcement's commitment to investigating and prosecuting all types of online crimes, from identity theft to computer intrusions, from Internet fraud to intellectual property crimes," said Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray. "The Criminal Division and its partners throughout law enforcement remain committed to responding aggressively to online crime, whatever form it may take."
Operation Web Snare represents a significant component of law enforcement’s concerted and coordinated response to the rising numbers of reports about Internet-related economic crime to government agencies and other organizations. The Federal Trade Commission reported that Internet-related complaints accounted for 55 percent of all consumer fraud reports that it received in 2003, up from 45 percent in 2002. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) - a joint project of the FBI and the National White-Collar Crime Center - reported that it referred 71,442 Internet-related fraud complaints to law enforcement in 2003, and 42,183 Internet-related fraud complaints in the first half of 2004. (By comparison, the IC3 referred to law enforcement 48,252 Internet-related fraud complaints in 2002, and 16,775 Internet-related fraud complaints in 2001.)
For some types of online crime, such as "phishing" -- the use of emails and websites resembling those of legitimate organizations to commit identity theft and fraud -- the incidence of reporting has grown dramatically. In the first six months of 2004, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, an industry coalition, the number of unique phishing attacks increased by more than 800 percent -- from 176 in January, 2004 to 1,422 in June, 2004.
Operation Web Snare is a follow-up to Operation E-Con and Operation Cyber Sweep, which Attorney General Ashcroft announced in May and November 2003, respectively. E-Con resulted in the execution of 70 search and seizure warrants and charges against more than 130 individuals. Cyber Sweep resulted in the execution of more than 90 search and seizure warrants and the arrests or convictions of more than 125 individuals.
Victims of online crime are encouraged to file a complaint online with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3. The IC3 is a joint venture of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. The IC3 staff reviews complaints, looking for patterns or other indicators of significant criminal activity, and refers investigative packages of complaints to the appropriate law enforcement authorities in a particular city or region. Victims can find the online form at http://www.ifccfbi.gov. (The Federal Trade Commission also has an online form for complaints about consumer fraud and deception, available through its website, http://www.ftc.gov.)
For more information on this initiative and other matters related to fraud and cybercrime, please visit the Department’s website at www.usdoj.gov.