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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fraud Victims Fight Back

Auction fraud victims fight back
Organized groups, soloists hunt criminals, get refunds

By Bob Sullivan
Technology correspondent
Aug. 1, 2002 - You don’t want to scam Kris Hopwood. Earlier this year, he won an Eric Lindros hockey jersey on eBay, sent the seller payment, but never received the shirt. So Hopwood took a day off of work, drove 10 hours from New Jersey to Toronto, and hunted down the con artist. A few hours later, Hopwood had his Lindros shirt, and the wouldbe seller — a sporting goods store employee who had been stealing from the store — was in handcuffs. Hopwood is just one of many auction scam victims who have decided they aren’t taking the crime sitting down.
It's called a “ghost auction,” and it’s the greatest fear of every Internet auction user. Win an item on eBay, Yahoo, or uBid, send the money to the seller, and never hear from the seller again. It’s the easiest way to steal money on the Internet. And frustrated victims often find they have virtually no chance of recovering their money if they simply file a complaint with the auction Web site. Some, like Hopwood, take matters into their own hands.
But others say the only real hope getting money back from a scammer is banding together with other victims. The Internet is now full of Web pages and e-mail groups devoted to investigating con artists, swapping information, and attracting attention from law enforcement agencies.

“The basic thing is you have to have numbers,” said Robert Zornes, who operates an RV park on Washington State’s Olympic Penninsula. He led a group of 50 victims who gave about $37,000 to a seller earlier this year and never received their collectible coins. About 80 percent of the money was returned by the seller after dogged efforts got the Maryland State Police and officials from the Postal Inspector’s office to visit the seller’s home and threaten legal action. “You have to have enough money involved that the postal service or sheriff’s department are willing to go after him. If you are just an isolated guy, you’ve got very little chance, but if you can team up then you have a certain amount of clout.”


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