Computer Crime Research Center


The terrible reach of online scams

Date: January 14, 2008
By: JON TEVLIN, Star Tribune

Pete Giancola was looking for a bass boat for his son, so he went looking on eBay, where he found one listed for a good price.

He began the purchase, but it didn't take long for "the bells and whistles to start going off" for Giancola, an insurance agent trained to look for fraud.

First, the seller wouldn't let Giancola's friend, who lived in the state where the boat was located, drop off the money personally. So Giancola, who lives in Jordan, checked the boat's registration in Wisconsin and found it was fraudulent.

Giancola backed out of the deal before it was too late and was so angry that he vowed the "seller" would never take anyone the way he'd come close to being taken.

But he learned there was no place to turn.

"The FBI couldn't help me," Giancola said. "The Minnesota attorney general's office said they didn't have jurisdiction. So did the attorney general in Florida. I was told I could fly to Florida and take civil action. I wanted to make sure this didn't happen to someone else, but I can't."

Like thousands of other Minnesotans being scammed on the Internet or on the phone, Giancola found it nearly impossible to do anything. Americans are now taken for more than $5 billion per year in various scams, according to Federal Trade Commission estimates.

And while the prevalence of scams is growing as criminals take advantage of increasingly sophisticated technology, prosecutions are few and far between.

"We're working it aggressively," said the FBI's Paul McCabe, a special agent in the Twin Cities. "But, sadly, there's so much [fraud] we just have to go after the biggest offenders. Sometimes the best thing we can do is education."

Police blotter checks from Twin Cities suburbs in the past few months show dozens of victims or potential victims.

In Plymouth, a woman selling a dress on the Web got taken. In Deephaven, a victim was tricked out of $1,300 in an Internet scam. In Corcoran, someone paid more than $9,000 for an item they never received.

Last month, Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis warned of a scam in which people were being told in bogus e-mails that the agency had awarded them $2.5 million, and was seeking personal data in order to collect.

And just last week, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety issued a warning about scams in which a con artist pretends to be the relative of an elderly victim, who claims to be in trouble in Canada and needs bail money. An Olmsted County woman lost $7,000 in the scam.

According to data from the Federal Trade Commission, there were 2,189 reports of fraud in the Twin Cities in 2006. Numbers are not available for 2007, but experts believe they will show another increase.

Thieves are getting more sophisticated, often sharing "sucker lists" of people who have nibbled at offers in hopes that they'll bite at the next one.

U.S. citizens lose about $120 million per year by biting on fake foreign lottery scams and another $100 million or so in a Nigerian scam, in which victims are promised large sums but first have to put up money of their own, according to the United States Postal Inspection Service.

At the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, operators get as many as 100 calls per month about scams, many from elderly victims and their kin.

"A lot are either from elderly people or their sons and daughters calling to ask about an offer they got," said Barb Grieman, the organization's vice president. "Sometimes they get to us before they've paid any money, sometimes not. It's sad."

Add comment  Email to a Friend

Discussion is closed - view comments archieve
2008-06-10 12:36:15 - zabar
2008-01-29 22:39:09 - I was looking for a travel trailer on... Brenda Rupel
Total 2 comments
Copyright © 2001-2013 Computer Crime Research Center
CCRC logo