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21 November 2003

Ashcroft Reports 125 Online Crime Investigations Under Way

"Operation Cyber Sweep" working to stop Internet fraud

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft reported November 20 that federal law enforcement authorities are investigating 125 cases of online crime involving the theft of more than $100 million. Launched in October, "Operation Cyber Sweep is the largest, most successful Internet investigation undertaken by law enforcement to date," Ashcroft said.

He said the investigations involving an array of federal, state and international law enforcement agencies have already resulted in 125 arrests or convictions, and investigations into additional suspects continue. The types of crimes being targeted involve identity theft, investment fraud, software piracy and counterfeit product fraud.

"Law enforcement faces the challenge of adapting and outthinking Internet criminals and online abusers," Ashcroft said. "So we are upgrading our capacity to make the World Wide Web a safer place by using the combined resources of federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies."

Ashcroft made particular note of investigative assistance provided by the Ghana Police Department and the Nigerian Economic and Financial Fraud Commission.

Following is the text of Ashcroft's remarks as prepared for delivery.

(begin text)

Department of Justice

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Announcement of "Operation Cyber Sweep" Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Information Superhighway should be a conduit for communication, information and commerce, not an expressway to crime. It is a top federal law enforcement priority to stop crime on the Internet.

That is why the DOJ is announcing Operation Cyber Sweep, the most productive, coordinated law enforcement operation that law enforcement has ever conducted against online crime.

The nationwide dimension of Operation Cyber Sweep began on October 1 of this year and already has been an unqualified success. Over the past seven weeks, this coordinated criminal investigation has netted:

-- More than 125 investigations, in which more than 125,000 victims lost more
-- than $100 million;

-- More than 350 targeted subjects, resulting in more than 125 arrests or
-- convictions thus far; and,

-- More than 70 indictments to date, and the execution of more than 90 search/seizure warrants. Although it closely resembles traditional economic crime in many ways, online economic crime has two distinctive features:

-- First, the online crimes are increasingly multi-jurisdictional. The criminals may be half-way around the world, but the Internet gets them close enough to pick the virtual pockets of consumers faster than it takes to send an e-mail.

-- Second, online criminals are using more sophisticated techniques to conceal their true identities or locations from law enforcement.

Law enforcement faces the challenge of adapting and outthinking Internet criminals and online abusers. So we are upgrading our capacity to make the World Wide Web a safer place by using the combined resources of federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies.

Operation Cyber Sweep is the largest, most successful Internet investigation undertaken by law enforcement to date. It involves the collective efforts of:

-- 34 United States Attorneys' Offices

-- FBI

-- Postal Inspection Service

-- Federal Trade Commission

-- Secret Service

-- Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and

-- The Criminal Division of the Justice Department.

These agencies have joined together to conduct Operation Cyber Sweep, a concentrated series of prosecutions and other enforcement actions that have targeted major forms of online economic crime, including:

-- Identity theft. In one case, an individual pleaded guilty in Alexandria, Virginia, to conspiracy to possess unauthorized access devices. This individual engaged in so-called "phishing" -- sending thousands of fake e-mail messages to America Online customers, and advising them to update their credit card or personal information with AOL to maintain their accounts.

-- Investment fraud. An individual pleaded guilty for his role in two separate online-investment-fraud schemes in Virginia and Tennessee. The first scheme involved an Internet website for a fictitious investment club that offered investors tax-free, double-digit, returns. His other scheme involved another bogus investment website built using information and photos stolen from other,
-- legitimate business websites.

-- Software piracy. An individual was indicted in the Eastern District of Missouri on fraud and copyright infringement charges for selling counterfeit copies of computer software programs on eBay.

-- Counterfeit product fraud. In a precursor case that led up to Operation Cyber Sweep, a Southern California computer supply company executive was convicted of criminal trademark violations. At trial, the evidence showed that the defendant had counterfeited at least $5 million to $7 million of Compaq computer memory modules, which numbered in the tens of thousands.

Our last operation of this type, Operation E-Con, ran from January 1 to May 16, 2003. That operation involved more than 90 investigations, the execution of more than 70 search and seizure warrants, and the charging or conviction of more than 130 individuals. Combined, these online investigations have saved consumers and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars.

After "Operation E-Con", federal law enforcement recognized the need to secure cooperation from a number of foreign countries in investigating and prosecuting major international Internet fraud schemes.

Over the past six months, I am pleased to say the level of cooperation we have obtained from foreign law enforcement has increased dramatically. As a result of cooperation from the Ghana Police Department, under the leadership of Deputy Inspector General Patrick Acheampong [ACK-ey-pong], we made substantial progress in a number of Internet investigations. We are deeply indebted to the Ghana Police Department for its valuable contributions to Operation Cyber Sweep. In addition, the FBI Legal Attaché in Lagos, Nigeria, works closely with the newly created Nigerian Economic and Financial Fraud Commission against various international online fraud schemes. As a result of the joint efforts between the FBI and law enforcement officers in Nigeria, the Legal Attaché has to date assisted in the recovery of more than $100,000 in merchandise and $2.1 million in fraudulent cashier's checks.

I emphasize that the significant accomplishments of this operation are due, in large measure, to the contributions of state and local law enforcement. State and local prosecutors from across the nation and police departments from Lewiston, Maine to Kent, Washington, played an integral part in Operation Cyber Sweep.

In addition, the National White Collar Crime Center proved yet again to be a valued and effective partner with the FBI in operating the Internet Fraud Complaint Center. In the first nine months of 2003, the IFCC has referred more than 58,000 Internet-related fraud complaints to law enforcement. Glen Gainer, who is the Chairman of the National White Collar Crime Center, is here with us, and I thank him and his staff for their continuing contributions.

If citizens or companies believe they have been the victims of on-line fraud, complaint forms can be found on-line at: http://www.ifccfbi.gov. That is: http://www.ifccfbi.gov. The Federal Trade Commission also has forms at: http://www.ftc.gov.

I am also pleased to note that a number of major corporations and trade associations have been strong supporters of Operation Cyber Sweep. Our success in combating cyber-crime depends on the alliance between law enforcement and the private sector to share information that identifies and roots out cyber-schemes of all types.

Finally, I want to call attention to the roles played by two Sections of the Department's Criminal Division: the Fraud Section, which oversees the Department's nationwide initiative on Internet fraud prosecutions, and the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, which is overseeing the Department's prosecutorial efforts against intellectual property crimes and computer-related crimes.

I turn now to FBI Assistant Director Jana Monroe for her remarks.