The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will decide Thursday whether to continue an interagency pilot program aimed at locating fraudulent Internet banks.
Jeffrey M. Kopchik, a senior policy analyst who heads the project, said the FDIC's operating committee is considering three options: renew the pilot as is, eliminate it, or replace its 20 volunteers with automated software that scans the Web for banking anomalies, such as suspiciously high interest rates on certificates of deposit.
The Internet monitoring project is staffed by 15 FDIC employees and five from other agencies, each of whom spends one hour a week surfing the Internet. They refer suspicious Web sites to Mr. Kopchik. Since its debut six months ago, the project has identified nine bogus banks on the World Wide Web.
Two of the discoveries have led to criminal indictments. In the most recent case, the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Nov. 3 accused two men of using a Web site to promote First Americans Bank, an unchartered institution allegedly located on Native American trust lands in Oklahoma.
According to the FBI, the men raised $3.4 million of deposits and $2.6 million from securities sales by falsely claiming that the bank's alleged tribal sponsorship exempted it from state and federal banking laws.
The ease with which crooks can construct or modify Web sites makes monitoring a constant challenge, Mr. Kopchik said.
In a related effort to stop fraud, the FDIC is encouraging consumers to verify the authenticity of Internet banks by checking a data base on the agency's Web site, which may be found at www.fdic.gov\consumer\suspicious.