Law enforcement agencies arrest six in online auto sales fraud

The defendants allegedly sold nonexistent cars, motorcycles and boats to U.S. victims, the DOJ alleges

Police in Romania, the Czech Republic, the U.K. and Canada have arrested six Romanian citizens accused of advertising and selling nonexistent automobiles on several U.S. websites in a multimillion-dollar scheme, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The six defendants are accused of "saturating" websites including eBay, Cars.com, CycleTrader.com and AutoTrader.com with detailed advertisements for cars, motorcycles, boats and other high-cost products generally priced between US$10,000 and $45,000, the DOJ said in a press release. The products offered for sale did not exist, the agency said.

The defendants allegedly used co-conspirators to correspond with victims by email, sending fraudulent certificates of title and other information, the DOJ said. In some cases, the defendants allegedly sold cars from nonexistent auto dealerships in the U.S. and created phony websites for those dealerships, the DOJ said.

In one case, the seller allegedly pretended to be the widow of an Iraqi war veteran who was selling her family's mobile home to help care for her children, the DOJ said. The defendants advertised several brands of vehicles, including Lexus, Audi, Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Toyota, Mercedes, Porsche and BMW cars, and Big Dog Mastiff and Ninja motorcycles.

The defendants made more than $3 million selling the nonexistent vehicles, the DOJ said.

A criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York charges Romanian nationals Emil Butoi, 34, Aurel Cojorcaru, 43, Nicolae Ghebosila, 43, Cristea Mircea, 30, Ion Pieptea, 36, and Nicolae Simion, 37, and Albanian national Fabian Meme, 42, each with one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of money laundering conspiracy. Butoi, Cojocaru, Meme, Mircea, Pieptea and Simion are also each charged with one count of passport fraud conspiracy.

Butoi, Cojorcaru, Ghebosila, Mircea, Pieptea and Simion were arrested Wednesday. Meme is already jailed in the Czech Republic. 

As part of the scheme, Cojorcaru, Meme, Butoi and others produced high-quality fake passports so that foreign national co-conspirators in U.S., known as arrows, could use the passports as identification to open American bank accounts, the DOJ said.  After the sellers reached an agreement with the would-be buyers, they emailed invoices purporting to be from Amazon Payments, PayPal or other online payments services, with wire transfer instructions included, the DOJ said in a criminal complaint.

The defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly used counterfeit service marks in designing the invoices so that they would appear identical to communications from legitimate payment services, the DOJ said. The fraudulent invoices directed the buyers to send money to U.S. bank accounts that had been opened by the arrows. The arrows collected the illicit proceeds and sent them to the defendants in Europe by wire transfer and other methods. 

The DOJ will seek the defendants' extradition to the U.S., it said.

If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy counts, and 10 years in prison on the passport fraud conspiracy count.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags fraudcybercrimeinternetlegale-commercescamsebayU.S. Department of JusticeCars.comCycleTrader.comEmil ButoiIon PiepteaAurel CojorcaruAutoTrader.comNicolae SimionFabian MemeCristea MirceaNicolae Ghebosila

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?