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Porn sites shut down by national task force

Banks and credit card companies join effort to end child exploitation

At least 155 Web sites used by peddlers of child pornography have been put out of business, thanks to a new coordinated effort by a national public-private task force, Utah Attorney Mark Shurtleff announced Wednesday.

"The facades are falling and the masks are being removed from the businesses and business owners making a profit by victimizing children," Shurtleff said. Several entities, including The Utah Crimes Against Children Task Force, began working earlier this year with the FBI, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, credit card companies and other agencies to remove their credit card processing capabilities.

Merchants employing photographs of young nude children in sexually suggestive positions were pinpointed by their methods of consumer purchase processing, including credit card usage. Those merchants were then put out of commission, having no other way to bill consumers.

Chris Ahearn, director of the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children's Task Force, said most child pornography Web sites are based in Europe, which makes for difficult prosecution.

"People in the child pornography industry are very technologically savvy," Ahearn said.

But the fact that credit card companies and banks won't honor transactions that go to the sites is a huge victory, Ahearn said.

"We're really pleased about it," he said.

The financial companies' global reach may lead to some civil suits against child pornographers.

Shutting down 155 sites may be a drop in the bucket, because there are an estimated 400 million pornography sites on the Internet.

But because financial resources are drying up for the owners of the 155 sites, Ahearn said he hopes the owners won't try to start similar sites.

"Hitting them in the pocketbook is one tool we can use," he said.

Shurtleff says the partnership developed in this case will serve as a model for fighting all Internet crime.


E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com; wleonard@desnews.com