Computer Crime Research Center


Local eBay seller has money, ID stolen online

Date: January 22, 2005
By: Portsia Smith

Tony Hahn has sold dozens of items on eBay with no problems.

So the 18-year-old Spotsylvania resident was floored when he ended up losing several thousands of dollars in an online scam. Worse, the Internet thief is using Hahn's identity to scam others.

"I never thought it would happen to me," Hahn said. "I was so na´ve."

Online scams are becoming more sophisticated as the Internet ages, and even savvy computer users, like Hahn, can get caught up.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, there were 63,316 fraudulent complaints in 2003. More than 60 percent were related to Internet auction fraud. In all, victims reported a total loss of $125.6 million--money that they probably won't see again.

That's what Hahn is discovering. Though he's been chasing his money and identity for months, he hasn't made much progress.

Tony's story

Hahn received an e-mail offer in October from someone who called himself "Terry Ray," an auto agent based in Nigeria. He said he wanted to buy the 1982 Honda CM-250 motorcycle Hahn posted on eBay.

They had telephone and e-mail conversations about the sale. Ray persuaded Hahn to bypass using eBay's PayPal system--a free, secure service to ensure safe transactions.

Within a few weeks, a cashier's check for $4,000 arrived--four times the $1,000 asking price.

In an e-mail exchange, Ray told Hahn the check was from his client. It included payment for the bike, his commission as the agent and the fee for shipping overseas, he said. He instructed Hahn to wire the remaining balance to a shipping company in Nigeria as soon as the check cleared.

Hahn took the check to the National Bank of Fredericksburg on Courthouse Road. He was told it had to sit for a day until he could cash it. The following day, he withdrew the extra $3,000 and wired it, as instructed, to Ocean Airliners, a shipping company in Nigeria.

"Honestly, I thought it was weird," Hahn said. "But I figured I was done since I had my money."

Hahn waited for a call from the shipping company that was supposed to pick up the bike. Instead he got a call from the bank saying the check hadn't cleared and that he had to pay back the amount that was missing--more than $3,000.

Like most victims of Internet scams, Hahn was left holding the bag. He'll have to make up for the amount that he wired and any money spent from his account.

The only responsibility a bank has to its customers is to make sure each person's money is safe and accounted for. When a check is endorsed, the signer is upholding the validity of that check, bank officials say.

But each bank handles their policies differently.

"If we paid something we should not have, [the bank will] take the loss," said John Daniel, a senior vice president with The National Bank of Fredericksburg. "But if [a customer] takes money and gives it to a con man, we didn't do anything wrong. We can't control what a customer does with the money after they leave the bank."

If cashier's checks or other government checks are involved, the liability is determined on a case by case basis, he said.

However, the final responsibility lies with the depositor, Daniel said. Beyond that, there are federal, state and internal regulations.

What to do

The Federal Trade Commission works to protect the consumer from fraudulent and unfair business practices and to help individuals spot, stop and avoid them.

But after it happens, there's not much one can do but report it.

Steve Baker, director of the Commission's midwest region, advises anyone who thinks he or she may have been targeted by an online scammer to file a complaint with the FTC.

"In terms of remedy, all you can do is file a complaint," Baker said. "As far as getting your money back, the prospects are slim."

In most cases, the victim never gets his money back, he said.

Baker also said there's a misconception that victims of online scams should have known better.

"These scams are very carefully thought out. 'Con man' stands for 'confidence man,' and what they do is take your confidence," he said. "People say it only happens to stupid people, but everyone is at risk for this kind of thing."

After being duped, Hahn called the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office, which referred him to the FBI, which referred him to the Secret Service.

"[The Secret Service] told me some people have lost more than $20,000. And since I only lost $4,000, they couldn't do anything with it," Hahn said. "They wouldn't even file a report."

Matthew McNally, assistant special agent in charge of the Secret Services' field office in Richmond, said that shouldn't have happened.

"There is no specific minimum amount that we will or will not investigate," McNally said. "There are other factors, like jurisdiction and what's involved with the case, but generally it would be investigated."

Jurisdiction has been a big roadblock between international scam artists and U.S. authorities.

Ken Schrad, spokesman for the Virginia State Corporation Commission's Bureau of Insurance, said when the scammer is outside of Virginia or U.S. borders there is nothing they can do. But he said victims shouldn't depend on the government to bail them out.

"There are plenty of warnings about these thing, and I don't know why people would respond to them," Schrad said. "The individual has to take responsibility."

What now?

Hahn was planning to attend trade school in Massachusetts this month, but he had to put those plans on hold to pay off his debt. He took out a loan to repay the bank and is now working as a mechanic.

"This has made me worry more about my financial situation," said the 2004 graduate of Spotsylvania High School. "I'm trying to do things on my own. I'd hate to burden my parents with my problems."

But the scam continued.

Just as Hahn was trying to get back on track, he started receiving mail and other bills at his home addressed to Terry Ray.

One piece of mail included a returned cashier's check for $4,200. The sender, a man from Milwaukee, Wis., wrote that he sold the item to another bidder since a payment method was not agreed on.

The fact that people may link scams to Hahn's address has his family concerned.

"It does worry me because I keep thinking someone might try to come to our home looking for my son," said Hahn's mother, Theresa Hahn. "This is a hard lesson at 18 to have to learn."

Tony Hahn said he has learned a lot from this experience and will be more cautious in future online transactions.

He recently re-listed his 1982 motorcycle on eBay, but this time he will use PayPal and only deal with local bidders.

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2006-07-09 14:10:10 - Yes, I also was used in a fraud not to... Natalie Alfaro
2006-01-02 13:59:53 - i too have been conned by the conmen of... sjs
2005-09-12 07:09:40 - I too have just been contacted to sell an... Shirie
2005-03-11 12:41:00 - qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq... werwer
2005-01-31 06:45:31 - hurmm... =p izzanwar
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