Gang responsible for multimillion-dollar online auction fraud busted in Romania

The gang targeted U.S. citizens and caused losses of US$4 million, Romanian authorities say

Romanian authorities dismantled a cybercriminal ring that stole an estimated US$4 million from U.S. citizens by posting offers for non-existent items on online auction websites.

Prosecutors from the Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) executed search warrants at 27 residential addresses in the city of Bucharest and several Romanian counties on Tuesday.

The head of the DIICOT press office, Nadina Spinu, couldn't immediately say how many people had been detained during the raids, but according to a press release from the agency a total of 20 suspects are expected to be brought in for questioning.

The fraud ring operated by reposting existing offers on online auction sites after modifying the seller's name, contact information and some other details about the products. The buyers were subsequently asked to send advance payments to U.S. bank accounts controlled by members of the gang.

The gang's leader procured fake documents, including fake medical and theology university diplomas, that were used by the group's members to obtain U.S. travel visas, DIICOT said. Once in the U.S., gang members were further supplied with fake identity and travel documents, as well as driver's licenses, which allowed them to withdraw the fraudulently obtained money and send them back to Romania.

According to DIICOT, the crime ring managed to defraud about 100 U.S. citizens. The DIICOT spokeswoman did not immediately answer questions about what kind of goods the gang offered for sale, but given the relatively low number of victims and the $4 million estimated fraud losses, they were most likely high-priced items.

On Dec. 5, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that law enforcement officials in Romania, the Czech Republic, the U.K. and Canada, arrested six Romanian nationals involved in a $3 million fraud scheme that targeted U.S. consumers through rogue ads posted on websites like eBay.com, Cars.com, AutoTrader.com and CycleTrader.com.

The gang posted fraudulent advertisements for non-existent high-value items like cars, motorcycles or boats, priced between $10,000 and $45,000, the DOJ said. Buyers were instructed to send the payments to accounts set up in the U.S. by other co-conspirators with the help of fake documents supplied by some of the arrested individuals.

Despite clear similarities in how the two gangs operated, including the procurement and use of fraudulent documents, the two cases are unrelated, according to the DIICOT spokeswoman. The new DIICOT action took place on Tuesday and the hearings in the case are ongoing, she said.

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Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
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