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March 24, 2021

The DOJ Must Crack Down on the Scourge of Online Scams
By Ankush Khardori

One major reason that internet fraud remains such a persistent and vexing problem is that the Justice Department has never made it a real priority—in part because these kinds of cases are not particularly attractive to prosecutors. Victim losses on an individual basis tend to be relatively small and widely dispersed. A substantial amount of this crime also originates abroad, and it can be hard and bureaucratically cumbersome to obtain evidence from foreign governments—particularly from countries where these scams comprise a large, de facto industry that employs many people. It is also far more challenging to find and secure cooperating insider witnesses when the perpetrators are beyond our borders. And even under the best of circumstances, the large body of documentary evidence that fraud cases involve can be exceedingly difficult to gather and review. If you manage to overcome all of those obstacles, you may still end up having to deal with years of extradition-related litigation before anyone ever sees the inside of a courtroom. Making matters worse, much of the press does not treat these cases as particularly newsworthy—itself a symptom of how routine internet fraud has become—and prosecutors like being in the press. The situation worsened under the Trump administration. According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the number of “white-collar crime” prosecutions—including for internet fraud—repeatedly fell to all-time lows in those four years. And like much of the federal government under Trump, the Justice Department’s criminal anti-fraud enforcement efforts became even less effective, as unqualified and sometimes incompetent officials took over and mismanaged them.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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