Feds Warn About Online Scams

ByD. Ian Hopper

W A S H I N G T O N,  Oct. 31, 2000 -- Reminding consumers that they should always beon guard when online, federal regulators announced today aneducation and law enforcement push against the top Internet scams.

Ranging from fraudulent auctions to mystery phone charges, theFederal Trade Commission listed the “Top Ten Dot-Cons” targetingInternet users.

The FTC has been working with an international coalition thisyear to stamp out Web scams through lawsuits and an onlineeducation campaign.

It’s a New World Online

“The Internet has changed the way consumers gather information,shop and do business,” Jodie Bernstein, the FTC’s director ofconsumer protection, said at the kick-off address. “It’s alsochanged the way law enforcers and consumer protection agencies dobusiness.”

The FTC said 251 law enforcement actions had been brought byfederal agencies against online scammers this year, and offereddetails about 18 of them.

In four cases, the FTC alleges that the defendants participatedin online auctions without delivering the goods after payment. Inanother three cases, adult Web sites are accused of chargingcustomer credit cards for services that were never ordered.

In a unique case, the defendants sent $3.50 “rebate” checks toconsumers. When the checks were cashed, the consumers unwittinglyagreed to allow the defendants to be their Internet serviceprovider. Monthly charges started appearing on the victim’s phonebills that were difficult to remove.

Very Old Tricks Made New

Regulators warned consumers about Web sites that advertise afree “viewer” or “dialer” program to access free adultmaterial. Without the victim’s knowledge, the program disconnectstheir computer from their Internet provider and makes aninternational call — typically to the Caribbean — to anotherInternet provider, racking up large toll charges on the victim’sphone bill.

Scammers are targeting small business owners and stock traders,too. Some consumers have used day trading services that promise“huge returns” in predicting the market, later finding that theclaims were inflated. Many online business and franchiseopportunities turn out to be flops as well.

Several of the FTC’s highlighted scams are very old tricks madenew because of the Internet. Miracle products, credit card theftand old-fashioned pyramid schemes are getting a new life online,which means consumer protection agencies have to go there too.

“We want dot-con artists to know that consumer protection spansthe globe — physically and in cyberspace,” Bernstein said.

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