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A Report to the Attorney General of the United States and the Solicitor General of Canada
May 2003

Binational Working Group on Cross-Border Mass-Marketing Fraud

Mass-marketing fraud today

Telemarketing fraud

Cross-border telemarketing fraud remains one of the most pervasive forms of white-collar crime in Canada and the United States. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates that on any given day, there are 500 to 1,000 criminal telemarketing boiler rooms, grossing about $1 billion a year, operating in Canada.

Several types of cross-border telemarketing fraud have increased substantially from 1997 to 2002: fraudulent prize and lottery schemes; fraudulent loan offers; and fraudulent offers of low-interest credit cards or credit-card protection.

Seven trends in cross-border telemarketing fraud since 1997 are especially noteworthy:

  1. Types of telemarketing fraud "pitches"
    The most prevalent among Canadian-based telemarketing fraud operations are fraudulent offers of prizes or lotteries; fraudulent loan offers; and fraudulent offers of low-interest credit cards or credit-card protection.
  2. Methods of transmitting funds.
    Criminal telemarketers generally prefer their victims to use electronic payment services, such as Western Union and Travelers Express Moneygram, to send funds for the promised goods or services. Some operations are moving back to greater use of the mails (such as Express Mail) and making more use of bank-to-bank transfers, to obtain victims' funds. Law enforcement agencies are seeing more telemarketing schemes, such as those offering "guaranteed" credit cards, make substantial use of Automated Clearing House (ACH) processes to debit consumers' bank accounts.
  3. Methods of laundering fraud proceeds
    A number of cross-border telemarketing schemes have been using more complex and sophisticated methods of laundering the proceeds they receive from victims.
  4. Involvement of organized crime
    Law enforcement agencies are seeing a growing involvement of organized criminal groups in Canadian-based cross-border telemarketing fraud operations. They report that some groups are using proceeds from fraudulent telemarketing to fund other illegal activities such as narcotics, gun running, and prostitution. Many telemarketing fraud operation managers and employees, as well as Western Union agents, have been threatened, extorted, and assaulted.
  5. Dispersion of telemarketing fraud operations within Canada
    Many telemarketing fraud operations no longer co-locate the components of their schemes in a single location. Law enforcement agents also have seen a trend among fraudulent telemarketing operations to establish greater specialization and division of functions among the operations' personnel. Finally, a number of operators are moving their "boiler room" or administrative operations into provinces other than the ones where the three telemarketing fraud task forces are based (i.e., Québec, Ontario, and British Columbia).
  6. Concealment techniques
    Many criminal telemarketers use extraordinary measures to conceal their day-to-day operations and to make investigating and proving the fraudulent schemes more difficult. These include the use of cell phone and prepaid calling cards that can be easily discarded; stolen identity cards; multiple mail drops; and impersonation of law enforcement agents.
  7. Expansion of victim targeting beyond North America
    A number of Canadian-based telemarketing fraud operations are looking beyond North America, and are increasingly targeting residents of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

Internet fraud

The number of fraud-related complaints of all types that consumers file with the FTC is rising significantly: from 107,890 in 2000 to 133,891 in 2001 to 218,284 in 2002. Moreover, the percentages of these complaints that involve Internet-related fraud are also rising significantly: from 31 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2001 and 47 percent in 2002.

Both the numbers and relative percentages of Internet-related cross-border fraud complaints have been steadily increasing in the past three years. Internet-related fraud complaints (excluding identity theft) rose from 12,213 in 2000 (22 percent of all cross-border fraud complaints) to 16,318 in 2001 (32 percent of all cross-border fraud complaints), then nearly doubled to 30,798 in 2002 (34 percent of all cross-border fraud complaints).

Identity theft

U.S. and Canadian data show that identity theft has become one of the fastest-growing forms of crime in Canada and the United States.

Identity thieves acquire other people's identifying data in many different ways. These include theft or diversion of mail; recovery of trash; electronic "skimming" or "swiping" of credit cards; and compromise of government or company employees with access to valuable data, such as employee databases and consumer credit reports; and theft or "hacking" of company databases.

Identity theft is never committed for its own sake. Criminals engage in identity theft because the acquisition of other people's identifying data enables them to engage in a growing variety of other criminal acts, such as fraud, organized crime, and terrorism.

Africa-related fraud schemes

Solicitations that offer bogus opportunities to assist persons in Africa in laundering illegal proceeds or transferring other funds out of Africa have been a longstanding problem for law enforcement in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

These types of solicitations were the leading source of U.S. consumers' cross-border fraud complaints about companies in other foreign countries, according to U.S. Federal Trade Commission data.

The response to mass-marketing fraud, 1998-2003

Both Canada and the United States have carried out all of the recommendations made in November 1997 to the fullest extent possible under respective national laws and legal processes.

These include:

Current challenges in cross-border fraud: Towards a binational action plan

Canadian and American law enforcement have reached "the end of the beginning" in combating cross-border mass-marketing fraud. Law enforcers, prosecutors, and regulators in both countries should now decide what new steps can and should be taken to become even more effective in combating cross-border fraud schemes.

This Report presents a twelve-point Action Plan to provide a coherent framework for those steps. This Action Plan outlines key measures to strengthen existing binational capabilities to combat the most significant types of cross-border fraud that affect both countries.

  1. Both countries should compare their respective strategies against cross-border telemarketing fraud and ensure harmonization of those strategies in addressing newer developments in telemarketing fraud.
  2. As part of that process of harmonization, both countries should also examine their existing national-level working groups that address other types of cross-border fraud issues, and where appropriate take similar steps to ensure harmonization of national strategies in addressing those types of fraud.
  3. Agencies that are members of existing interagency telemarketing fraud task forces should reaffirm their commitment to participation in those task forces, and consider inclusion of new agencies where appropriate to obtain additional investigative resources against cross-border fraud.
  4. In investigating and preparing to prosecute cases against particular cross-border fraud schemes for prosecution, police, law enforcement agents, and prosecutors should explore all avenues for seizing and forfeiting proceeds of the crimes traceable to those schemes and returning as much money as possible in restitution to victims of the schemes.
  5. In investigating cross-border fraud cases, prosecutive offices in both countries should continue to examine the speed with which mutual legal assistance requests are processed and carried out, and to look for ways of expediting the processing of such requests.
  6. Prosecutors and civil enforcement agencies in both countries should consider whether to use "sweeps" – a series of coordinated enforcement actions against similar types of criminal or fraudulent activities – in selected categories of cross-border fraud cases.
  7. Law enforcement agents and prosecutors in both countries should explore how to make more effective use of videoconferencing technology to obtain needed testimony from witnesses in the United States.
  8. Both countries should take steps to facilitate the prompt sharing, both at national levels and among existing and future interagency task forces, of public information about enforcement actions against cross-border fraud schemes that law enforcement, prosecutive, and regulatory agencies in either country have taken, including information about the impact of those schemes on individuals and businesses.
  9. Both countries should coordinate their efforts to contact other countries whose citizens are being targeted by cross-border fraud schemes, to share information and training opportunities with appropriate government agencies in those countries, and to take specific steps toward expanded cooperation and coordination with those countries in investigating and prosecuting such schemes.
  10. Both countries should coordinate their efforts to consult with entities in the financial services and electronic payments industries about specific measures to reduce the use of particular payments mechanisms by cross-border fraud schemes.
  11. Both countries should plan to have at least one conference each year at which investigators and prosecutors can exchange information about current trends and developments in cross-border fraud and receive training about investigative techniques and substantive and procedural laws that have proven effective against major fraud schemes.
  12. Both countries should also explore the use of videoconferencing for joint binational or multinational training on specific fraud-related topics.
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