565 Arrested in Mass-Marketing Fraud

AP, May 23, 2006

WASHINGTON—More than 2.8 million people in the United States paid to obtain credit cards, claim sweepstakes winnings and get in on lucrative investments that turned out to be too good to be true, officials said Tuesday as they announced hundreds of arrests in an international investigation.

Authorities in five countries have arrested 565 people in fraud schemes that netted more than $1 billion. Many of those arrested are West Africans who were attempting variations of the notorious Nigerian Internet scam, the Justice Department said.

Many of the victims were elderly or immigrants. One scam consisted of telephone calls to Spanish-speaking U.S. residents who were seeking to establish credit and were promised credit cards in return for a couple of hundred dollars. The cards didn’t exist, said Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras.

“Those that prey on consumers know their vulnerabilities,” Majoras said at a Justice Department news conference with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. “They zero in on those who will actually believe them.”

The scams were carried out through telemarketing, mass mailings and the Internet and included bogus lottery, prize and sweepstakes offerings, invitations to pour money into nonexistent investments and supposedly legal enticements to avoid paying taxes, officials said.

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