THE US Attorney General said Thursday that law-enforcement agents had arrested 125 suspects in a crackdown on Internet crimes ranging from hacking and software piracy to credit card fraud and selling stolen goods over the Internet.

The investigation, begun Oct. 1 and dubbed Operation Cyber Sweep, involved police from Ghana to Southern California and uncovered 125,000 victims who had lost more than $100 million, he told a news conference. Seventy indictments to date have led to arrests or convictions of 125 people, with more expected as the probe continues.

“The information superhighway should be a conduit for communication, information and commerce, not an expressway for crime,” Ashcroft said.

Those arrested stand charged with a variety of crimes that highlight the innumerable scams and criminal acts that now take place online.

‘‘Online criminals assume that they can conduct their schemes with impunity,” Ashcroft said. ‘‘Operation Cyber Sweep is proving them wrong, by piercing the criminals’ cloak of anonymity and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law.”

The cases range from a Virginia woman who sent fake e-mails to America Online customers asking them to update their credit card numbers to a disgruntled Philadelphia Phillies fan who hacked into computers nationwide and launched spam e-mails criticizing the baseball team.

Many are accused of selling stolen or nonexistent goods online, a leading cybercrime category. Suspects fenced stolen goods through online auction sites like eBay, set up phony escrow services to handle payments, and touted fraudulent investment clubs through slick websites, according to a summary of cases provided by the Department of Justice.

Suspects also stole classified files from government computers, hacked into business computers to steal customers’ credit card numbers, disabled computers running child-abuse hotlines, and sold counterfeit software or computer-memory chips, the Justice Department said.

It said one California man continued to send online death threats to a Canadian who he thought was sending him spam e-mail even after authorities asked him to stop.

U.S. Secret Service agents worked with foreign law enforcers to track down suspects who operated across international borders, leading to the arrest of a Romanian man who they said bilked some $500,000 from online auction participants.

Authorities in Ghana and Nigeria also helped track down suspects and recover millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains.

The crackdown stemmed from indications that Internet fraud continues to rise. The Internet Fraud Complaint Center, run in part by the FBI, referred some 58,000 complaints to law enforcement in the first nine months of 2003 — compared with 48,000 for all of 2002.

Chief Postal Inspector Lee Heath said many suspects were simply transferring time-honored scams to the Internet.

“We’d like to say it’s just old wine in a new bottle,” he said.

Federal agents said they had not yet found the perpetrators of the Blaster worm and SoBig e-mail virus that disabled millions of computers this summer, but had gained some valuable leads, thanks to a reward program set up by Microsoft.

A similar cybercrime sweep in the first half of the year led to 135 arrests.

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