Cover blown on auction scammers

Friday, 2 May 2003, 3:15 AM EST

"Operation Bidder Beware" has resulted in 57 criminal and civil law enforcement actions in a sweep involving the coordination of the FTC, attorneys general of the participating states and local police agencies, according to the FTC.

Online-auction fraud is the No. 1 type of Internet-related complaint tracked by the FTC in terms of volume, according to the agency. The FTC received about 51,000 complaints regarding online-auction scams in 2002, representing about $37 million in losses, said Howard Beales, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. That number likely represents just a fraction of the actual number of rip-offs that occurred, officials said.

Although the vast majority of complaints involve the collection of payments for goods that never materialize, the authorities are seeing a few new twists, Beale said. One involves identity theft by sellers in order to cover their tracks and throw investigations off track. In some cases, scam artists have taken over the accounts of other online sellers. Another problem, said Beales, involves fraudulent escrow services that collect either payments and merchandise or both, ripping off both buyers and sellers.

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