Ebay fraudsters jailed

Three people have been jailed in London this month after admitting global fraud offences against several thousand people through a web auction site.

Romanian couple 30-year-old Nicolae and 23-year-old Adriana and 26-year-old George Titar obtained more than 250,000 by deception from up to 3,000 people from all over the world, between July 2003 and May 2005.

Nicolae Cretanu was sentenced to three and a half years' imprisonment while Adriana Cretanu and George Titar were jailed for two and a half years each.

As they accrued the money they transferred it out of UK jurisdiction back to Romania, their country of origin.

They advertised items for sale on the Internet auction site "Ebay". The advertisements offered a variety of goods for sale, ranging from motor vehicles, sporting events, binoculars, electrical items and parachute trousers. None of the goods ever existed. Bidders were advised that they had been unsuccessful in their original bid but were being offered this "second chance" to obtain a similar or identical item.

Payment for goods was sent by the victims via Western Union to one of the trio's 12 aliases. Armed with the money transfer number they were able to pick up the payment within minutes of it being sent.

Their conviction follows an investigation by officers from the Met's Economic and Specialist Crime unit in conjunction with FEXCO Money Transfer (who is Western Union's UK representative).  All were arrested in May 2005.

Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, head of the Met's Specialist Crime Directorate said:

"This type of crime is often seen as victimless, but my experience is that it has huge emotional impact on the people losing the money and we are determined to tackle these organised criminals. We are pleased that by working in partnership with Western Union, we look forward to doing so with Ebay to prevent such crime impacting on Londoners."

Detective Chief Superintendent Nigel Mawer, Head of the Economic and Specialist Crime Unit at the Metropolitan Police said:

"This is a significant operational success by the Economic and Specialist Crime Unit against an international organised criminal network using internet auction sites and money transfer to make significant profit by defrauding ordinary members of the public. Do not use money transfer to send money to someone whose identity you do not know. "

Related links: The Met joins forces with Western Union .


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31 October 2005    




4Law - Monday 31 October 2005

Three internet fraudsters who helped pocket nearly 300,000 auctioning off an Aladdin's Cave of non-existent goods have been jailed.

In the biggest con of its kind, they and others tricked eager eBay customers from around the world to bid for everything from parachute trousers to cars.

The trio of Nicolae Cretanu, 30, his 23-year-old wife, Adriana, and George Titar, who made nearly 300,000 duping thousands of people into buying items that did not exist on eBay, were jailed on Friday for carrying out a "well planned and sophisticated fraud".

The Romanian husband and wife team would advertise on eBay for variety of items including cars, concert tickets, among others. Most of these goods were imaginary. The couple would then wait till the end of the auction, after which they used to contact unsuccessful bidders and offer a "second chance" for buying.

They used 12 aliases to hoodwink over 3,000 unsuspecting shoppers across the world. The scam’s success was largely due to the fact that buyers on eBay are required to pay before they receive their goods.

They also managed to exploit the eBay site as most of its customers’ e-mail addresses are available with it. As an eBay spokesman said,: "The criminals used the site to gather information and initially to contact their victims but carried out the fraud separately, beyond the protected environment we provide". ‘Protected environment’ is the point beyond which the website is not responsible for the transactions carried out.

Nicolae Cretanu - In the biggest fraud of its kind uncovered so far, a Romanian couple and their accomplice tricked customers from across the globe into paying for fictitious goods that never arrived.

The conned customers would then transfer the cash to England using Western Union money transfer. The fraudsters used a host of counterfeit passports and identities to collect the cash from Western Union's outlets. George Titar was in charge of collecting the cash.

Chief Superintendent Nigel Mawer, head of specialist economic crime unit, Scotland Yard's said though 300,000 in this case was "but a drop in the ocean" as compared to the estimated 1bn a year, which was being swindled from people across the globe, "eBay scams form a substantial part of that".
The racket was exposed after it raised suspicions among the Western Union staff, who alerted police. The trio were then arrested following an investigation by Scotland Yard's economic crime unit. They have also been served with deportation notices.

eBay also announced that it was going to follow suit in Britain of banning payments through Western Union, as is being done on their US site, eBay.com. A spokesman of eBay apologised, on behalf of the site, to all who had suffered through their associations with them. He said: "These transactions did not take place on eBay and as soon as we were made aware of them we took action. By working with the police we helped ensure that the prosecutions were successful, showing that crime does not pay on eBay".

Some 3,000 victims from as far away as the United States and South Korea were snared by the trio in a scam involving crime bosses in Romania and which police fear continues to this day.

Judge Duncan Matheson sentenced Nicolae Cretanu, 30, to 3-1/2 years and his wife Adriana Cretanu 23, and their accomplice George Titar, 26, to 30 months each.

Passing sentence, Judge Duncan Matheson, QC, said: "This was on any showing a major, sophisticated and well-designed fraud.

"I've been told there was something like 3,000 victims around the world, with some 60% in the US and the remainder from the UK, other countries in Europe and elsewhere."

He said that for nearly two years they and their Eastern European masters "exploited perceived weaknesses in the eBay system targeting a large number of people who parted with monies under entirely fraudulent circumstances". The judge added he would also be recommending to the Home Secretary that all three be deported upon their release.

Adriana Cretanu - Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obtain property by deception between July 1 2003 and May 31 this year and money laundering. They were jailed for three and a half years and two and a half years respectively.

"This was on any showing a major and sophisticated fraud," Matheson told the Romanians as they stood in the dock at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court

Between 2003 and 2005 the three had played a major role in the fraud which worked by operating bogus auctions for consumer goods ranging from scooters to military memorabilia.

Unsuspecting eBayers who tried to buy the fictitious goods were contacted and told their bid had been unsuccessful.

The disappointed bidders were then offered a second chance to buy similar goods outside the eBay system which gives some protection from fraud.

"These criminals used the site to gather information and initially to contact their victims but carried out the fraud separately beyond the protected environment we provide," eBay.co.uk said in a statement.

Through a variety of aliases and using a number of forged Belgian passports, the Romanians made hundreds of collections from Western Union money transfer outlets in London.

George Titar - Their accomplice, who collected the payments from money transfer shops, admitted the same charges and was also sentenced to two and a half years. Shoppers were told by e-mail that they had been unsuccessful in their first bid but were offered a "second chance" to buy a similar item.

They kept about 30 percent of the money they stole, the rest they passed onto crime bosses in Romania and the authorities are concerned the scam continues to be perpetuated by others.

British police believe the actual fraud committed by the Romanians and their accomplices was far greater than the 300,000 pounds detailed in court.

Chief Supt Nigel Mawer, who led the operation, said: "We believe there were 3,000 victims of this fraud and this type of fraud is still continuing." The cell's accomplices in Romania had been arrested and were awaiting trial.

The forged Belgian passport belonging to Nicolae Cretanu, one of three Romanian fraudsters jailed on Friday in London for their part in a worldwide fraud carried out via Internet auction house eBay, which netted at least 300,000 pounds. Police Handout