U.S. fights fraud on Internet
WASHINGTON (AP) – When Rick Skinner auctioned his laptop computer on the Internet, he expected to pocket hundreds of dollars. Instead, he was left without a laptop or the money for it, but he got a lesson in Internet fraud.
Con artists found Skinner through eBay and persuaded him to sell the computer through their service, which they said would ensure that he would get his money. But the service was a scheme that tricked Skinner into shipping his $1,300 computer right to the scammers.
“I never heard from the buyer, the escrow company, nobody since then,” said Skinner, 37, a network engineer from Norfolk, Va.
The scheme that snatched Skinner’s laptop was among those targeted by federal and state regulators Wednesday in the largest government crackdown against Internet auction fraud. Such crime was the No. 1 Internet-related complaint recorded by the Federal Trade Commission last year.
The FTC and 33 state and local law enforcement agencies have moved against auction con artists with 57 actions ranging from prosecutions to warning letters, said Howard Beales, chief of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
“Real-world law enforcement will not let you get away with virtual fraud,” Beales said.
Most of the cases included in “Operation Bidder Beware” involve scams where consumers won online auctions and paid money but never received the merchandise. The phantom items included designer handbags, dental equipment, plasma televisions and a diamond, according to regulators.
Christine Gregoire, Washington state’s attorney general, said many victims of Internet auction fraud are vulnerable because they pay with cash or money orders.
“Our single biggest piece of advice is three things: Use your credit card, use your credit card, use your credit card,” she said. Credit card companies offer additional protections against fraudulent transactions.
Many of the scams occurred on eBay because of the large volume of auctions there, Beales said. He said eBay has cooperated with law enforcement to combat auction fraud.
Kevin Pursglove, an eBay spokesman, advised consumers to check the feedback ratings given to auction buyers and sellers before doing business with them.
“eBay is a marketplace,” he said. “Users should educate themselves about the culture and practices of the marketplace.”
The FTC said that in one case a man stole identities to cover his tracks when he failed to deliver to winning bidders.
The man allegedly opened bank accounts and post office boxes using identities from the records of a suburban Chicago hotel and the names of people he didn’t like.
A federal court in Chicago ordered a halt to the scam and froze the man’s assets so they can be used to repay victims, the FTC said.
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