Reporting Joe Shortsleeve
BOSTON (CBS) – Thousands of used car buyers are getting taken, and the FBI tells WBZ it could be the work of an international organized crime ring.
Ethel Allen of East Bridgewater has all the paperwork for the car she intended to buy, including one document stamped with a “Guarantee.” What she doesn’t have is her $5,000 or the car in her driveway.
When the car didn’t arrive on schedule, Allen said, “Oh lord, we knew something, I said something is up.”
Allen had gone on Ebaymotors.com to buy her daughter a car to get to work and school.
A lot of shoppers visit the site these days. In fact, 4.8 million cars have been sold on the online auction site. It’s a legitimate and growing trend.
Unfortunately, Allen made one key mistake. She complied with the seller’s request to send the money directly via Western Union.
Ebaymotors.com has a warning on their website not to go outside of their system to pay someone; it’s an immediate red flag that the owner might have dangerous motives.
East Bridgewater Police captured pictures of the man they believe picked up Ethel Allen’s money. He was at a grocery store west of Boston and was using a fake name. WBZ has learned police in Connecticut believe the same man could be responsible for similar crimes there.
FBI special agent Russ Brown is in charge on investigating cyber crimes in the Boston office. He believes this scheme is, “Facilitated by organized crime members who are teaming up with cyber criminals. They are spending a lot of time, they have a lot of sophistication and they really work hard to identify people to victimize.”
Brown theorizes most of these alleged crimes originate in Romania.
The numbers are big, and growing, said Brown.
“From 2010, we’ve been able to tabulate that losses have been over $15.5 million within the United States, and that only represents about 10%-20% of the actual loss. We believe that it is much higher, and within Massachusetts we have seen over 76 individuals through the year 2010 with a loss of over $140,000.”
Those are important dollars for someone like Ethel, who has been out of work for five months. She said her family is, “Sick to our stomachs that somebody could have taken our money like that.”
The FBI says other warning signs that you could be dealing with a crook include a car that is marked way below its value, or a the seller giving a hard luck story and saying they need to sell the vehicle right away.