FTC, international coalition crack down on misleading Web sites

The sweep is being coordinated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

The Federal Trade Commission and more than two dozen consumer protection agencies around the world are participating in a three-day sweep to identify and crack down on Web sites that mislead consumers.

The International Internet Sweep, which began Tuesday, is being coordinated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The sweep is focusing on what the agencies call "too-good-to-be-true" Web sites that prey on consumers by offering them bogus get-rich-quick schemes, work-at-home schemes, and free offers that are anything but.

"The lure of quick, easy money and opportunities to work from home entice consumers into such schemes," the ACCC said in a statement.

Common pitfalls include hidden start-up fees, added costs and grossly exaggerated earning potential, according to the ACCC. Consumers often lose thousands of dollars to such schemes, the agency said.

"The ACCC received an increasing number of complaints and inquiries about Internet scams throughout the year of 2003," said ACCC Chairman Graeme Samuel in the statement. "The internet is prime territory for scammers around the globe who seek to take advantage of international boundaries to avoid detection. Scammers are increasingly using the Internet to try and make a fast dollar and take advantage of vulnerable consumers."

FTC spokesman Pablo Zylberglait said the sweep is part of an ongoing effort by members of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), a network of consumer protection agencies from 31 countries.

"Cross border cooperation is essential to combat these types of scams," the ACCC said. "Enforcement agencies are increasingly working together to combat Internet fraud, where scammers exploit the international nature of the Internet."

After the Internet sweep, the ICPEN will turn over whatever information it has gathered about suspect Web sites to the affected countries. It will be up to officials in those countries to decide what, if anything, to do with the information. Zylberglait said a country could decide to take legal action against a site's owner, or just warn the owner about possible violations. In addition, a country could just decide to alert the public about any suspect Web sites.

Zylberglait said the agencies will likely release a statement about the outcome of the sweep after an ICPEN meeting at the end of March.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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