DOJ officials scramble to recommend prison phone policy changes
By D. Ian Hopper
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) Getting stiffed at an Internet auction. An ``all
expenses paid'' hotel that turns out not to be free. An offer for
free adult material on the Web that secretly runs up a hefty phone
The government cited these gimmicks Tuesday as it posted its first-
ever top 10 list of Internet scams that Americans should avoid, and
vowed to work with overseas law enforcement to crack down on Web con
``The Internet has changed the way consumers gather information, shop
and do business,'' Federal Trade Commission director of consumer
protection Jodie Bernstein said. ``It's also changed the way law
enforcers and consumer protection agencies do business.''
Several of the FTC's ``dot con'' scams are very old tricks
reincarnated on the Internet. Miracle products, credit card theft and
old-fashioned pyramid schemes are getting a new life online,
Worries about Internet thieves have slowed electronic commerce since
its inception, but more consumers are gradually warming to the idea
of Internet purchases. The FTC's new consumer protection effort is
intended to keep criminals from undermining that trust, officials
The agency said the government has brought 251 lawsuits against
online scammers in 2000. Officials described a handful of the cases
on Tuesday to better educate Web consumers about the dangers.
For instance, the FTC has sued three individuals and their company,
Computers By Us, in Thomasville, Pa., alleging they participated in
online auctions without delivering the goods or offering a refund
after getting paid.
The operators of the company did not respond to calls at their office
for comment Tuesday.
The agency also alleged that a group of affiliated Arizona companies
sent $3.50 ``rebate'' checks to consumers. When the checks were
cashed, the consumers unwittingly agreed to allow the defendants to
be their Internet service provider.
Monthly charges started appearing on phone bills and were difficult
to remove, officials alleged.
The companies had no telephone listings, according to operator
RJB Telcom of Scottsdale, Ariz., was sued along with its principals
for offering a free ``viewer'' or ``dialer'' program to access free
The government alleges that without consumers' knowledge, the program
disconnected the user's computer from their Internet provider and
made an international call -- typically to the Caribbean -- to another
Internet provider. Consumers unwittingly racked up large long
distance charges, the government alleged.
The company and its executives also are accused of billing credit
card holders for services the consumers say were never used. The
company did not have a phone listing, according to directory
assistance, and did not immediately respond to an e-mail for comment
Officials also warned that scammers are targeting small business
owners and stock traders. Some consumers have used day trading
services that promise things such as ``huge returns'' in predicting
the market but later find the claims inflated.
Titan Business Solutions, a California company, was sued after it
advertised for medical billers that could work at home and earn up to
$45,000 per year.
Customers who called Titan were asked to send more than $300 to the
company in exchange for some software and motivational tapes which
they couldn't return, the lawsuit alleges.
There was no phone or e-mail listing for the company.
In traditional computer crime, such as hacking, law enforcement
efforts can be hobbled by international borders with differing
jurisdictions and laws.
The FTC said it is trying to overcome those obstacles by creating a
new international network of consumer protection agencies.
It said it is working with 240 agencies in the United States as well
as officials in Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, New
Zealand, Norway and Britain.
``We want dot con artists to know that consumer protection spans the
globe — physically and in cyberspace,'' Bernstein said.
On the Net: Federal Trade Commission Top 10 Dot Cons site:
. . . watch for more stories coming soon