FTC identifies top 10 'dot-cons'

By Margret Johnston, IDG News Service |  Government

WASHINGTON -- SCAMS on the Internet now have a name: dot-cons.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in Washington, listed on Tuesday the top 10 types of Internet scams consumers complain about, dubbing them "dot-cons", and warned that scam artists can be just a click away. FTC officials also announced the latest results of "Operation Top 10 Dot-Cons," a 10-month-long operation involving law enforcement officials from the U.S. and eight other countries, targeting the top 10 dot-cons. Legal actions were brought against 251 scammers as a result, FTC officials said at a news conference.

Internet auction fraud led the list of dot-cons, with 45 percent of consumer complaints connected to auctions. In most cases, the fraud involved merchandise that was paid for but didn't arrive, or faulty merchandise that didn't meet expectations, FTC officials said. Internet access service fraud came second on the list with 21 percent, while nine percent of complaints dealt with Internet information and adult services.

One common complaint involved consumers who were automatically disconnected from their ISP (Internet service provider) when they downloaded software used to view entertainment, said Eileen Harrington, director for marketing practices at the FTC. The software then directed them to dial an international telephone number connecting them to a different ISP, which cost them up to $7 per minute. "In many instances consumers who received the bills had no knowledge that anyone was using their computer this way," Harrington said.

Other cases involved software programs bypassing international call blocking and other protections installed on telephone services by concerned parents, she said.

Other scams on the top 10 list were pay-per-call and telephone information services; Internet Web site design and promotion scams; bogus businesses opportunities; pyramid schemes; deceptive travel packages; and investments and health care. Harrington said all these were connected to international parties, just as con artists place their servers offshore or use foreign bank accounts, in many cases.

"All of these are old-time scams, but they have had a boost with the capacity to go international," said Jodie Bernstein, director of consumer protection at the FTC.

Bernstein said the FTC is working with consumer protection and law enforcement agencies in other countries to build a coalition that spans the globe. The FTC this week is also hosting a meeting of the International Marketing Supervision Network (IMSN), a 29-country body, at which discussions about information sharing agreements and cross-border cooperation will be discussed.

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