Consumer protection agency debunks terrorism-related scams

Dozens of reports circulating about online scam artists posing as reputable charities and bilking people of cash in the wake of last week's attacks by terrorists are bogus, according to the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. Eileen Harrington, the associate director for marketing practices and the agency's chief fraud watcher said Thursday that she has received dozens of calls this week on reports of potential online scams in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. "We have run back every single report [through our databases] and not found evidence of a scam," she said. With the use of the Consumer Sentinel, FTC's clearinghouse of reported online cons and con artists, Herrington said she is certain that as of Thursday, there had not been an act of fraud committed in conjunction with the attacks. All reports received by the FTC have been traced back to legitimate charities and businesses. Consumer watchdog groups such as the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail and the National Consumers League have reported incidents of suspected online scam artists attempting to profit off of individuals ready and willing to donate money to relief efforts in New York and Washington. Harrington said those reports are misguided. Susan Grant, director of the League's National Fraud Information Center/Internet Fraud Watch program, asserted the threats were real and advised consumers "to give to charities you know and trust." Herrington echoed that last sentiment, and said people should give directly to reputable charities or through libertyunites.org, a charity collection site set up at the request of President Bush by Microsoft, Amazon.com, E-Bay and a number of other technology industry leaders. The site reported that more than $66 million in contributions had been made as of Sept. 19. Despite the FTC's claims, the Sept. 11 offensive did prompt the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) to warn agencies last week that it "expects to see an upswing in incidents [of cyber terrorism] as a result of the tragic events of September 11." As of Wednesday, an NIPC spokeswoman said the agency hadn't reported any hacker attacks connected with acts of terrorism or terrorist organizations. With federal resources being consumed by a new worldwide search for terrorists, state and local law enforcement agencies will be left to pursue acts of fraud, theft and terror carried out over the Internet, according to Richard Johnston, director of the National White Collar Crime Center in Richmond, Va. A congressionally funded organization, the Center helps run the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), the clearinghouse for tips and leads from the public into the investigation of the attacks. Johnston says the government's war on terrorism will undoubtedly take place on an electronic battleground. The ability to use computers and the Internet, and to understand how criminals might use those resources to conduct their operations, "is going to be a very important issue in this anti-terrorism campaign," he said.
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