FBI targets online auction sites’ criminal constituency

The FBI has made a number of big busts using the eBay and other online auction sites this year. 

Now today comes news that it played a big role in the indictment of an Alabama man for wire fraud.  Joseph Davidson, has been charged in U.S. District Court with wire fraud in connection with an eBay scheme in which he allegedly received approximately $77,000 for stolen goods sold on the auction site. “Online auction houses present an opportunity for a thief to turn a stolen item into cash. Thieves should know that law enforcement can surf sites too in investigating crime,” stated U.S. Attorney Alice H. Martin in a statement on the FBI’s Web site.

The one-count indictment charges that Davidson stole more than 400 golf clubs and other golf equipment from Inverness Golf and Repair and sold them on eBay. Purchasers were from numerous states, including California, New York, and Ohio; and countries including Canada and New Zealand, the FBI said on its Web site.In April, the agency recovered astronaut James Lovell's - Commander of the ill-fated Apollo XIII space mission - Presidential Medal of Freedom that had been missing since April, 1970.

According to the FBI, the medal in question was originally produced for presentation to Lovell that month in 1970 but a defect was detected in the medal prior to the presentation ceremony and a replacement was manufactured. The defective medal was to be destroyed, however, it apparently never was. T

he FBI said it "found its way out of the White House and eventually into the hands of a private collector in Pennsylvania." Long story short, Lovell learned that the defective medal was being offered for sale on eBay, earlier this year. A woman in Pennsylvania who told authorities it once belonged to her father, posted it on eBay in January and it was selling then for $5,000.  This month the FBI helped recover a rare Gastinne Renette carbine taken from a Paris military museum during World War II while the Germans occupied Paris that once belonged to Napoleon III.

 French authorities had searched for the 37-inch gun ever since and when it popped up on the Web site gunsamerica.com, French officials contacted Interpol, which in then enlisted help from the FBI.

Online auction sites attract FBI and other law enforcement agencies in part because stolen goods can be moved so readily but also because auction fraud complaints made up about 45% of the 207,492 complaints received by the FBI’s  Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) last year, but that number is down significantly from 2005, when auction fraud was cited 63% of the time.  Overall, the number of complaints received by IC3 was down 10% from the previous year, when the IC3 logged 231,493 complaints. But the total dollar losses reported were up in 2006, totaling $198 million for the year. In 2005 that number was $183 million.  

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