E-Bay Scammers and Internet Fraud
December 12, 2002 1:08 PM   Subscribe

A Mac user scorned is a dangerous thing... Gotta hand it to this guy: persistence pays off. After being scammed with $3000 in forged cashier checques in an eBay transaction, this seller took matters into his own hands. How secure do you feel making transaction over eBay and related services? What kinds of internet fraud have you faced or fear? And most interesting of all, to what extent have you gone to correct evils done to you?
posted by tgrundke (50 comments total)
Wow, that was like reading Takedown. Reminds me of the guy that used Timbuktu and Applescript to get a stolen mac back.
posted by machaus at 1:23 PM on December 12, 2002

And most interesting of all, to what extent have you gone to correct evils done to you?

Before I do that, there's no Statute of Limitations for murder, right?
posted by bradth27 at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2002

Two Chicago residents replied, and the next morning, courtesy of Tim, I had 23 pictures of the house, the cars in the driveway (with license plate numbers) and the neighborhood. I'd like to see a Dell user do something like that at 4:30 in the morning for a complete stranger a thousand miles away.

This. Rules.
posted by armoured-ant at 1:33 PM on December 12, 2002

Vigilante eBay justice!

“Everyone has a hobby, and you don’t want to be mine.” (More from MSNBC)

posted by cinderful at 1:33 PM on December 12, 2002

"And all the while my precious Powerbook is sitting god knows where being used by somebody completely undeserving of a Mac. I know in my heart that Mr. Christmas is really a PC guy. "

Best. Lines. Ever.
posted by Windigo at 1:37 PM on December 12, 2002

I love happy-ending computer nerds getting the crook stories.
posted by gramcracker at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2002

Sure, but this is obviously BS. A used Mac with a 40 meg hard drive in 1986? That doesn't jive with my memory at all. Was it even possible to get a 40 meg hard drive prior to like 1990?

Rest of the story was interesting though.
posted by willnot at 1:57 PM on December 12, 2002

I haven't been able to reach the site at all. Anyone have a cached copy?
posted by mathowie at 2:00 PM on December 12, 2002

willnot, at least in 1987 the SE had a 40Mb drive.
posted by mathowie at 2:01 PM on December 12, 2002

I can't see the site either. Anyone?
posted by tweebiscuit at 2:03 PM on December 12, 2002

Sure, but this is obviously BS. A used Mac with a 40 meg hard drive in 1986?

I cannot get back to the site either now, but he was talking about a TiBook and and Airport Base station, so he obviously was not saying this story took place in 86. I think he said he had been using macs since then.
posted by thirteen at 2:05 PM on December 12, 2002

It's MeFied -- and nothing on Google or Archive.org, either.
posted by dhartung at 2:06 PM on December 12, 2002

The thread on slashdot has several reposts of the story. Natch.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:06 PM on December 12, 2002

willnot: Careful not to mix your megabytes with gigabytes.
posted by waxpancake at 2:08 PM on December 12, 2002

Here's a mirror of the original page, via Slashdot.
posted by waxpancake at 2:10 PM on December 12, 2002

No, he starts out saying that he's been a long time Mac user starting back in 1986 with a used "some type of Mac" that had 1 meg of RAM and a 40 meg hard drive.

It's a very minor point in the story, and my mentioning it was mostly a joke, but I do remember even as late has 1989/90 having to use tape back up for a 20 meg drive that was perpetually almost full, and I don't remember 40 meg drives being available in the 80s.
posted by willnot at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2002

Call me skeptic, but this sounds a little fishy to me. Kinda like one of those "help me divorce my husband" or "pay off my debt" deals.
posted by bmxGirl at 2:30 PM on December 12, 2002

warning: long tirade:

i got ripped off recently in a "trade" on harmony central. it really sucked.

the guy was supposed to send me various items of gear for my Darwin 8track digital recorder.

he had pretty in-depth info on the gear (told me that one of the pieces of gear, a midi patch bay, was broken on one port), and wrote coherently,. i checked out his name through various sites to make sure he lived approximately where he said he lived, got a phone number from him, and spoke to him on the phone.

he insisted on UPS packing, and wanted it packed to spec (because he said he'd had problems before with broken gear and getting insurance money) -- he suggested we handle it COD (this should have made me a bit suspicious), but i told him I didn't feel comfortable doing COD. Since he was supposed to send me $50 cash along with the items, I suggested he send it to me Paypal, as a sort of a deposit (i figured this would nail him down as legit). I asked that it be from a verified address, and he sent the cash, but said it wasn't verified because, unfortunately, he'd never received the address confirmation card paypal sent out -- reasonable (though this should have also tipped me off).

Anyhow, i've got the $50, so i go ahead and send my piece of gear (all the way to michigan). The UPS guy tells me they have to pack it in liquid foam because they can't pack it to spec in bubble wrap -- anyhow, this ends up costing me $99. i figure it's ok, because this guy i'm dealing with will have to pack his stuff to spec to, and he'll probably spend about the same amount, so whatever. Anyhow, somehow the UPS package was sent *allowing* drop-off w/o signature (i thought you ALWAYS had to sign for a package unless the shipper said you didn't -- this is not the case), and it arrived probably a week later in mich -- after the person in question had contacted me a couple times asking for the tracking number.

After that, he sent one message saying he'd received it, but hadn't got a chance to play with it yet... I said, "great, go ahead and send me the tracking number for my package" and that was the last i heard of him.

The cell phone he had given me was either a voice mail or had caller id, because he never picked up (i posted a complaint on harmony central, and someone contacted me saying they had got ahold of him from dearborn mich using the cell phone number, so i assume he just looked for a 415 or 510 and then didn't answer).

after about two weeks of no contact and no package i was pretty sure i got ripped off. I tried to contact the police in mich, and they told me to contact the FBI (interstate) -- the FBI told me to contact the postal inspectors -- the postal inspectors told me that since the package was shipped UPS, it wasn't mail fraud, and they couldn't do anything, and that i should contact UPS -- the UPS insurance dept. told me they couldn't do anything if the package had arrived -- they didn't handle these types of cases. I contacted PayPal telling them they might be interested that someone was using a PayPal account in order to rip other people off, and they sent me a form response.

the only legal recourse at this point, from what i understand, would be small claims court, but the claim would have to be filed in michigan, which is not worth the money i lost in the deal.

basically, this guy pretty much *legally* ripped me off. it really made me upset for a month that people could get away with theft under a couple grand and not be held repsonsible, and then i just slowly sort of forgot about it. the $400 i lost in that is probably more than made up by all the sweet deals i have found on the internet in the 2 or 3 years i've used it to buy merch. however, i CANNOT RECOMMEND HARMONY CENTRAL to anyone at this point -- i've had another friend who also was scammed, and there are virtually no buyer protections in place -- not even a transaction account for each seller. keep in mind harmony central ads are often cross-posted to usenet as well.

anyhow, in the future, i'm sticking to ebay.

also: if anybody lives near oak park in michigan and can get contact info for this guy, i'd appreciate it. i'd just like to get the satisfaction of telling him he's an a-hole to his face. i don't think i'm going to get anything else at this point.
posted by fishfucker at 2:41 PM on December 12, 2002

willnot, bmxgirl: And with the "you can paypal me money if you _really_ want to." It really does sound a bit fishy.

He says he's worried about carrying over $2000 in his bag, so he decides to get an ibook and give the balance to charity?
posted by ODiV at 2:47 PM on December 12, 2002

Umm. Sorry for that fishfucker, maybe start your own page ala this guy.

meanwhile . . .
Call me skeptic

You're a skeptic.
I mean, he doesn't exactly seem to be fishing for money here, in fact he offers some charities that people can donate if they feel like it. I don't think he'd be tossing around the names of police officers and posting photos if this was a scam.

Meanwhile, the few times I've been on the receiving end of scams, I usually sit around for days stewing in the juices of my own anger and frustration, until one day- time, sweet time sweeps away my lingering bitterness.
posted by jeremias at 2:48 PM on December 12, 2002

fishfucker, the head of legal for paypal is a friend of a friend, so I'll see what I can do.
posted by mathowie at 2:52 PM on December 12, 2002

willnot, he writes: I got my first Mac in 1986, a used Mac Plus with 1 megabyte of RAM a massive 40 megabyte external hardrive.

I can verify that these existed. My family had a computer with this configuration in the '80s. It was a Fat Mac that had been upgraded with a SCSI card. The 40 MB hard drive had the same footprint as the computer and was 2-3 inches tall. The Mac sat on top of it. You had to turn the hard drive on, wait a few seconds until you heard the drive spin up, then turn the computer on so that when it looked for a system disk it would detect the hard drive. (Good ol' System 6.0.8. Ah, memories.) This was when I was in elementary school, 1986-7 is completely feasible.

Sorry to go off topic. Now back to the scam stories...
posted by finn at 2:59 PM on December 12, 2002

I bought a used power supply/20M hard drive from my Apple IIgs in 1990, and I believe there were new, bigger ones available at that time. I need to dig that old machine out, dredge up memories....
posted by notsnot at 3:00 PM on December 12, 2002

A gorgeous read. Someone should start a weblog community dedicated to pinpointing Internet scammers and hoaxers (of course, this seems to be the part-time job of MeFiers). It makes for good drama and warm feelings (for justice).
posted by jacknose at 3:10 PM on December 12, 2002

I'll confirm the availability of 40Mb drives in the late 80s, though often they were aftermarket; the Mac SE didn't come standard with a 40-megger until later. Since he says it was external and "massive", it may have been a larger-format Winchester.

I don't think I would recommend that anyone use any auction service anywhere without using an escrow intermediary service, at least for values past $50 or so.

My own regret in this area is modest: I bought a Mac for $400 for my nieces and nephew to use, but despite claims in the eBay auction, it didn't come with any of the CDs or manuals. I re-examined the auction and found I had filled in some mental gaps -- almost like the classic of a couple years back where people were auctioning off empty PS2 boxes for hundreds of dollars, with a little creative wording. When I did run into a situation where I needed those discs, I got some help from a fellow MeFite and got over it.
posted by dhartung at 3:13 PM on December 12, 2002

There's an older story along the same lines, about a guy who was scamming others via (IIRC) used short-wave radio supplies. But one of the scam-ees did more than call police. He killed they guy with a mail bomb. Anyone else remeber that? I can't find a reference.
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:18 PM on December 12, 2002

jacknose, I started working on a site for a friend with that goal in mind a while ago. It was a lot of work and never got off the ground though (like too many of my side projects). Here's a mockup of the logo I made for it.
posted by mathowie at 3:19 PM on December 12, 2002

I was ripped off in a very similar manner back in 1996 (sold a watch through Watchnet to a gentleman in Dallas who sent me a counterfeit cashier's check and phony details in return... case was pursued as vigorously as this one was, but never solved), so this was a particularly gripping read for me.

The details of my own experience were so similar to the ones that are recounted here, I almost felt as though I was living through it again... though this time, I got the vicarious thrill and satisfaction of seeing the m_____f_____ brought to justice. This is the sort of thing the keeps me coming back to MeFi.

btw, I also posted similar warnings on the boards when this happened to me, and also encountered the odd skeptical reply. I wasn't soliciting money or anything, so I was mystified as to what they thought my angle was, but people will always be cynical a___, ahem, I mean people, I guess.
posted by psmealey at 3:34 PM on December 12, 2002

I'll confirm the availability of 40Mb drives in the late 80s
Those must have cost a fortune. In the late 80's I was convinced I would never be able to own a computer, I remained convinced of this until the middle 90's even.
posted by thirteen at 3:38 PM on December 12, 2002

Wow, mathowie, that's exactly what the Internet needs, some AngryMobJustice to scare the bejeezus out of all those do-badders. In fact, the logo and tagline scares the bejeezus out of me. Does anything like this already exist on the Internet? An Internet Justice League made up of bloggers?
posted by jacknose at 3:42 PM on December 12, 2002

Sargeant Knapp informed me he loved this kind of thing, even had a UPS and Fedex uniform ready.

posted by i_cola at 3:44 PM on December 12, 2002

Here's a mockup of the logo I made for it.

It's a shame you didn't go through with it. You could have sued HBO for copyright infringement.
posted by crunchland at 3:55 PM on December 12, 2002

[self link warning]
This is long, so I'll link to the story on my site. My own "messing with scammer" story. The deal is, after I was totally convinced it was a scam and after screwing with him as much as I could, it turned out it wasn't his fault at all. Oops.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:09 PM on December 12, 2002

y6y6y6...your story is interesting! But are you sure it wasn't his fault? Because why would he send you a blanket by mistake? That sounds fishy... Methinks strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
posted by GaelFC at 4:41 PM on December 12, 2002

crunchland, it was made with a wacky sopranos font from one of the many free font sites. So I might have gotten whacked. Oh well.
posted by mathowie at 4:44 PM on December 12, 2002

what i find most interesting (mostly because it happened to me two weeks ago too) is that the police were not prepared to move quickly, even when provided with all of the information. i recently had credit card information stolen virtually, and provided the police with the name and address where the stolen goods were being shipped. two weeks later, they have still not acted on this at all.
posted by judith at 4:47 PM on December 12, 2002

MrMoonPie - hadn't heard about that, but I'd love to read about it. Ouch, can't say I approve, but it's still pretty interesting! Unfortunately, searching google for 'short-wave radio' and 'mail bomb' comes up with pretty much what you'd expect...
posted by GriffX at 4:47 PM on December 12, 2002

"But are you sure it wasn't his fault?"

That's the weird thing. It has to be somehow. I just can't figure how. And with all the shipping costs I ended up coming out ahead. And if I hadn't been honest and sent the blanket back he would have been screwed.

The part I just totally can't get is how the post office could mess up *both* deliveries. Both took over a month to get to me, but they were sent priority. Should be 3-5 days max. Maybe it was some sort of prank where he faked the postmarks on the boxes, but I still would have come out ahead in the end.

And I left out most of the worst emails. I was a total ass to the guy. Oops.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:24 PM on December 12, 2002

You? An ass? I find that very hard to believe.
posted by crunchland at 5:42 PM on December 12, 2002

A good read. Thanks, LimePi.
posted by emf at 6:35 PM on December 12, 2002

Ebay warns very strongly against selling "off-site" to buyers who ask you to cancel a running auction to sell directly to them. If this guy had paid attention to that warning, he might not have been scammed, since it sounds like the crook's MO involves always offering to buy off-Ebay.

This is not to say that winning bidders don't sometimes scam, though. Of course they do. But still...
posted by litlnemo at 7:04 PM on December 12, 2002

A friend recently had an eBay purchase gone wrong.

She bought a rare book. It arrived, but was in MUCH worse condition than promised. She asked for her money back, the seller agreed, she sent it back. But (her mistake) she did not insure the book or require a signature.

The seller claims to have never received it and will not refund her money. BUT, shortly after she would have received the book back, the same seller put up the same title on eBay again, and the description of the condition made it pretty clear it was either the same book or an identical twin of this same rare book. She gave my friend a long convoluted explanation of how she happened to come across the exact same book, and man, does it sound fishy.
posted by GaelFC at 8:08 PM on December 12, 2002

I'm confused about how a Mac user is somehow more virulent than a PC user. Is there some obvious humor here that I'm missing?
posted by thanotopsis at 8:27 AM on December 13, 2002

More virulent: perhaps
More masochistic: certainly
posted by octavius at 9:32 AM on December 13, 2002

Covered in ChiTrib.
posted by dhartung at 10:19 AM on December 13, 2002

I used to E-bay a lot until I got ripped off on a Mulholland Drive DVD. Apparently the guy had put it to quite a few people for $25 and less before they put a stop to it.
posted by oh posey at 10:21 AM on December 13, 2002

Thanks, LimePi. Glad to know my memory isn't completely shot.
mmmm, MoonPie and LimePi.....
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:38 AM on December 13, 2002

it seems the AP has picked up the story
posted by dolface at 5:00 PM on December 14, 2002

And the New York Times, too.
posted by mattpfeff at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2002

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