A Romanian man has pleaded guilty to participating in a well-organized scam that took in about US$2.7 million from unsuspecting users of online marketplaces such as eBay, Craigslist and AutoTrader.com.
Adrian Ghighina, 33, of Bucharest, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering charges in U.S. District Court for the District of Illinois, the Department of Justice said Thursday.
Prosecutors say Ghighina was a money mule whose job was to pick up cash wired to him by online buyers who thought they were purchasing cars, RVs, and motorcycles from legitimate sellers. He is one of 11 people charged in the scam, which dates back to November 2004.
Ghighina's crew used a variety of tricks to fool people into sending their money, typically via Western Union. They hijacked legitimate eBay accounts, sent buyers fake "second chance" offers, or pretended people's money would be held in escrow until the goods they bought were delivered.
These scams are still a big problem for online marketplaces. In fact, Craigslist advises its users to never wire money because "anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer."
The gang took money from 1,100 victims, according to court documents.
As payment, Ghighina would keep between 20 percent and 40 percent of the cash wired to him, which often totalled thousands of dollars at a time.
He is due to be sentenced on May 9 and faces 20 years in prison. Ghighina has already been given a 27-month sentence in Florida for wire and visa fraud.