Consumer agencies launch "international internet sweep"

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Consumer agencies launch "international internet sweep"

...armed only with the humble search engine.

Australia's competition watchdog is one of several worldwide agencies that has set up a taskforce to target websites making misleading or fraudulent claims to consumers, in what is being called an "international internet sweep".

Based on the theme 'crisis scams', agencies who are part of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) will attempt to uncover and disrupt fraudulent websites offering consumers a quick fix for their problems.

According to a statement from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, 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.

"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," said ICPEN president and acting ACCC chairman Peter Kell. "As a result of the sweep the agencies aim to disrupt the activities of scammers."

An ACCC spokesman told iTnews the ICPEN would use search engines such as Google's to flag fraudulent content.

"[The taskforce] will put search terms into a search engines, such as Google, and based on the results they find they'll then go through the results one after another and flag any fraudulent-looking ones," the spokesman said.

Kell said the sweep aimed to disrupt scammers from exploiting the global financial crisis or other economic pressures to mislead consumers.

"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," Kell said.

Last year 21 consumer protection enforcement agencies earmarked more than 37,000 websites and 18,000 spam messages for analysis and further investigation.

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