Local FBI keeping eye on Internet fraud, child porn

Posted: Monday, July 10, 2000

A state of informed alert is the best defense against economic crimes. That's the message from Mary Beth Kepner, one of two resident agents with the Juneau office of the FBI.

Among the crimes the FBI investigates in Southeast Alaska are telemarketing schemes, bank fraud, investment fraud and child pornography.

Describing a telemarketing scheme, Kepner said, ``We have a case of a victim who lost her life savings of $100,000.''

Now that the FBI has successfully routed many telemarketing ``boiler rooms'' out of the Lower 48, many have moved to Canada ``where it is easier for them to operate.'' Such operations are so named because they set up in cheap locations, such as boiler rooms, and move frequently to avoid investigators.

The Juneau woman bilked of her nest egg was targeted by a boiler room operation in Vancouver, Kepner said Friday at a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon speech. Kepner and her partner, agent Dave Gelios, are working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to track down the culprits.

The Internet has provided a new avenue for credit card fraud, Kepner warned. The paper trails left by bank fraud and credit card fraud give the FBI leads to follow, she said, but the fresher the trail, the better.

Lloyd Johnson, vice president of First National Bank of Anchorage, said such fraud can be fought by consumers.

``Read your statements in a timely manner -- credit card statements, bank statements. Because if there is activity on there that is not yours, we are bound to pay you back,'' he said.

Kepner mentioned an investment fraud that has used the mail as well as e-mail, a scheme out of Nigeria offering a return of 20 percent interest. When she asked those attending the luncheon to raise their hands if they had been contacted by the Nigerian cons, 80 percent did so. Kepner said she hears about two or three of these letters a week from people in the community.

``People need to use their common sense; if an offer is too good to be true, it probably is,'' she cautioned.

Child pornography is another major concern of the FBI, Kepner said.

``There is an undercover effort to nab people who are traveling interstate to have sex with minors or who are sending pornographic pictures over the Internet,'' she said. ``We have some of these cases in Southeast.''

Kepner, who specializes in economic crime and Russian crime, has been an FBI agent for nine years. Most of that time she spent assigned to the Philadelphia Division. She was assigned to Juneau, part of the Anchorage Division, in February.

Adjusting to Southeast has its amusing aspects, she said, such as having to serve a search warrant on an island -- ``which never happens in Philadelphia.'' She solved the problem with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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