The Justice Department and FBI on Monday launched a Web site on which consumers and businesses can report suspected Internet frauds.
Attorney General Janet Reno said law enforcement needs new tools like the Internet Fraud Complaint Center with usage growing, particularly among older Americans with more time to surf the Web and more assets for criminals to target.
"The center will provide law enforcement at all levels -- federal, state and local -- with something they have been asking for a long time -- a one-stop shopping approach to identifying Internet fraud schemes and referring them to the proper agency," Reno said at a news conference.
Assistant FBI Director Rubin Garcia, head of the bureau's criminal investigative division, said the center will send the complaints to the appropriate federal, state, local or even foreign law enforcement agency.
The center also will analyze these complaints, compile statistics and propose strategies for dealing with criminals who use computers to commit their crimes.
"The Internet is used to commit the same types of fraud the FBI has traditionally investigated telemarketing, money laundering, securities fraud but traditional investigative methods are ineffective in this new environment," Garcia said.
Demographic changes in Internet use have made the need for a new investigative tool more urgent, Garcia said.
Currently, 18-to-34-year-olds are the largest age group using the Internet, accounting for 39 percent of users, Garcia said. But people over age 50 are the fastest growing group of users and, as a group, they surf the Internet 19 percent longer than all other age groups combined.
"Those older users are on longer and have the most assets available for investment so they are more likely to be targets for criminals," Garcia said.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received nearly 18,000 complaints of Internet consumer fraud, including allegations about online auctions and sales of computer hardware and software. The Securities and Exchange Commission gets 200 to 300 complaints a day about possible securities fraud on the Internet.
The Internet Fraud Complaint Center is located in Morgantown, W. Va., and was set up in cooperation with the National White Collar Crime Center, a national support network funded by the Justice Department to aid state and local prosecutors, agents and regulators in dealing with high-tech economic crime.
Garcia said the center was not set up to deal with computer viruses and denial of service attacks aimed at damaging computer systems. But he said that if complaints about such attacks come in, they will be referred to the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, which investigates that type of computer crime.