Police work to stay on top of 'Net scams'
By Mark I. Johnson
Date: July 11, 2003
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Like the Energizer Bunny, Internet scams just keep going and going.
According to Detective Tony Ford, who investigates frauds and identity theft for the New Smyrna Beach Police Department, he continually receives reports from residents contacted via their computer or by telephone by a person wanting to bilk them out of their money or personal information.
"I have three on my desk right now," he said.
The proposals range from offering a percentage of cash for assistance in transferring money from one county to another or offers of prizes.
But there is always a catch. The person making the offer wants something in return, a few dollars or maybe the victim's bank account number to make the transaction easier.
"I just had a man in my office who said he got a call from Panama," Ford said.
The victim was told he had won a sweepstakes and would receive $398,000 but first, he had to provide $3,500 to purchase an insurance policy to protect his winnings while it was being mailed to him.
What really concerned this resident -- who did not fall victim to the scam -- was the caller knew personal details about recent investment business transactions
Ford said unfortunately, there is not a lot he can do to stop such solicitations.
"The police have no authority to prevent someone from sending an e-mail to a local resident," he said. "Also, it is not a crime for someone to ask a person for money unless there is an element of deceit."
Even when a crime occurs, the perpetrator usually is acting from another county -- traditionally an African nation -- and local law enforcement has no way to track them down, Ford said.
An agency with international investigative powers is the FBI.
"Cybercrime is a top priority," Jeff Westcott said.
Westcott, an FBI agent based in the Jacksonville office, said the Bureau has gone after international con artists with the cooperation local law enforcement departments, but difficulties in jurisdiction and treaties sometimes hamper investigations or prosecutions.
There also is the human factor, the FBI agent said. In many cases, the victims willingly participate in these scams, thinking they will benefit.
"It continues to amaze me what some people will believe," he said.
Ford is more blunt about some victims' motivations.
"There is nothing making you give these people money except greed," he said. "These (scams) work on the greed factor where someone wants to make money off a small investment."
As long as there are people wanting to better themselves, there will be con artists and, according Westcott's boss, Special Agent in Charge William R. Falls, the only true defense against such crimes is knowledge.
"Though these scams continue to plague law enforcement, the best deterrent is to alert the public that these are not legitimate opportunities," he said. "With any such solicitation, the best advice is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Original article: http://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/News/Neighbors/DailyJournal/03AreaDJ04TECH071103.htm
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