Multinational Web Site To Fight Online Fraud

The United States and 12 other countries have joined forces to fight cross-border Internet fraud with the launchTuesday of a Web site that takes consumer complaints in four languages.

The International Marketing Supervision Network(IMSN), a group of 13 industrialized nations,said that the Econsumer.gov site will take complaintsabout Internet fraud that originate outside thevictim’s home country and pass them on to theappropriate law enforcement officials in theparticipating countries.

The site will be hosted by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“The Internet offers consumers access to goods, services and information from around the world,” FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky said. “But the borderless nature of the marketplace can also frustrate governments’ ability to protect consumers.”

According to Pitofsky, the Econsumer.gov site will “allow countries to work together to make the Internet safer for consumers across the globe.”

Getting ID’ed

The Econsumer.gov site will be an extension of the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel network,a database of consumer complaint data. However, Consumer Sentinel, which received more than 100,000 fraudcomplaints in 2000, is only equipped to handlecomplaints in English.

“With the Sentinel site, we get about 50,000complaints every month on the consumer side,” FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection assistant director Betsy Broder told the E-Commerce Times. “We share thisamong domestic law enforcement agencies and with lawenforcement in Canada and Australia. Econsumer.govtakes that one step further.”

Added Broder: “These days, it’s just as easy to order something onthe Internet from France as it is from New York. I maywant to know what my protections are (in) dealing with thiscross-border commerce. The Econsumer.gov site makesme a more savvy and aware consumer.”

The most common Internet fraud complaint received byConsumer Sentinel last year related to identity theft,which made up 23 percent of complaints.

Two-Faced

The new Web site has both a public and a private face. The consumer site — which is available in English, Spanish, French and German — contains information about consumer protection laws and agencies in the participating countries.

When a consumer files a complaint online at Econsumer.gov, the information is logged into the database and shared through a password-protected site with consumer protection law enforcement agencies that have signed a confidentiality agreement.

“We’re seeing enough cross-border fraud to know that this will be a very helpful tool,” FTC Commissioner Mozelle Thompson said in media reports. “This will send a clear message to those unscrupulous parts of the public that they can’t hide from us just because we’re on different sides of a border.”

In addition to the U.S., the following countries are participating in the project: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Promises, Promises

Although Econsumer.gov gives aggrieved consumersa place to register their complaint, it does not promise that each complaint will be specificallyaddressed.

“Although your complaintmay be accessible to government agencies, it may ormay not be accessed by them,” reads a disclaimer preceding the complaint form on the site. “Many government agenciesbring law enforcement actions to protect thepublic-at-large, but do not intervene on behalf ofindividual consumers. Other agencies have anobligation to investigate each complaint. However, youshould not necessarily expect any country to pursueyour complaint on your behalf.”

Seal of Approval

Despite the procedural difficulties in combating online fraud, government and consumer agencies around the world have been working to instill consumer confidence in cross-border e-commerce.

On Monday, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) announced that it was cooperating with the Federation of European Direct Marketing (FEDMA) and the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry to develop a new international seal for online businesses that uphold specific business standards.

The groups said that the new venture will encourage businesses to adhere to consistent standards, no matter what country they are located in, and will promote the development of cross-border e-commerce by reducing consumer confusion over the varying consumer protection standards.

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