U.S. police suspect Latvian involvement in Internet scam

  • 2006-12-13
  • From wire reports

DUPED: Online shoppers in the United States should beware of falling victim to scam artists.

Police in Lincoln, Nebraska have uncovered an Internet scam that could be linked to Latvia, the local Fremont Tribune newspaper reported on Dec. 8. According to the report, unidentified criminals had been using stolen credit card data to buy various goods that they later sold at online auctions in the United States. The suspects then transferred the proceeds to Latvia.

Police data shows that the auctions were operated by a married couple from Nebraska, but authorities are unable to charge them because there's no evidence proving that they knew about the scam.

Suspicions of illegal activities arose after Kent Hager, city administrator for New London, Wisconsin, bought a Web camera from an Internet vendor. About a week after the camera arrived, Hager received an espresso machine he had never purchased.
After this misunderstanding, Hager received an e-mail from someone purporting to be the Web camera vendor and claiming that the espresso machine had been delivered by mistake. Hager promised to help forward the espresso machine to the right owner in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Since Hager had alerted the New London police about the suspicious incident, investigators checked the espresso machine's invoice and discovered that it had been bought with a stolen credit card number.
New London police contacted their colleagues in Lincoln, where investigator Steve Niemeyer delivered the machine to the address on the mailing label. A married couple accepted the delivery.
The couple told the investigator that about six months ago, after making an online purchase, they were sent an e-mail asking whether they'd be interested in online marketing.

Soon they were operating online auctions. The two received vacuums, computer monitors, espresso machines, photo printers and other goodies, which they posted and sold online. They sent the proceeds to Latvia, according to the newspaper.
Niemeyer said the U.S. online sales were a new twist on an old scam. Using stolen credit card numbers, it was common for crooks to buy goods online and have them shipped overseas. But since overseas sales now are being scrutinized, criminals are having goods shipped to people in the United States, who resell the items online and share the proceeds with the overseas operator, the U.S. newspaper says.

"They're constantly changing their tactics," Niemeyer said. The Lincoln couple probably won't face any charges, the investigator said, because authorities would have to prove the pair knew the goods were illicitly obtained.
Niemeyer is now trying to find out where about a dozen boxes of goods belong and how they got to the couple. If no one claims them, they'll be sold online at http://www.propertyroom.com.