Australian consumer watchdog claims leads international fight against online scammers
Websites targeting consumers with misleading or fraudulent claims will be the focus of a coordinated international internet sweep, with Australia’s ACCC said to be leading the way.
The ACCC will lead the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network to uncover and disrupt fraudulent websites offering consumers a quick fix for their problems.
ICPEN president and acting ACCC chairman Peter Kell said this year’s event is focusing on so called ‘crisis scams’ that exploit consumer concerns about financial downturns.
“The sweep aims to disrupt scammers from exploiting the global financial crisis or other economic pressures to mislead consumers,” Kell said. “When people are in financial hardship they may be more likely to take a chance on a scheme that promises to help them out of a bind, whether it relates to employment, easy money, or fixing a health problem. However, scammers will take their money regardless of their personal circumstances.”
Based on the theme ‘crisis scams’ agencies will use a set of predetermined search terms (for example business opportunity, guaranteed profit, unclaimed money) to come up with a list of websites to check.
“As internet fraud moves beyond international boundaries, so too must consumer protection agencies. The annual sweep enables consumer protection agencies to collaborate in the fight against these frauds,” Kell said. “By the end of the sweep thousands of websites will be inspected and suspicious sites will be flagged for further investigation and follow-up action. As a result of the sweep the agencies aim to disrupt the activities of scammers.”
Last year 21 consumer protection enforcement agencies earmarked more than 37,000 websites and 18,000 spam messages for analysis and further investigation.
“Cross-border cooperation can and does bring about results,” Kell said. “Recently the ACCC worked with US counterparts to get refunds for consumers misled by a website claiming to sell designer brands. This year the ACCC has also been successful in going through the courts to take down a series of misleading websites selling medical eBooks.
ICPEN is made up of consumer protection authorities from 42 countries and its main objective is to take action to prevent and redress deceptive marketing practices with an international component.