Last week there was an interesting article in the L.A. Times about the cloak-and-daggerism of fighting online scams in Romania, summing it up like this: “The country is the top source of auction site scams. One company is trying to do something about it, with increasing collaboration from local law enforcement over recent years. Ebay has sent over equipment and a team to help the authorities combat this form of cyber crime, which is run with all the organization of an industrial-scale business.”

Danger lurks for Albena Spasova when she arrives in the small industrial center of Ramnicu Valcea, Romania. She is escorted by U.S. Secret Service agents on her trips to the town of Ramnicu Valcea. Her safety is at risk making the agents necessary. They always book her room and always make sure it is next to their room. She has spent weeks sometimes months going over case files with the local police.
If you didn’t know it Ramnicu Valcea would not seem to be the capital of anything. but this obscure town located in the Carpathian Mountains is the global center of an Internet and credit card fraud ring. And Albena Spasova is an accomplished online fraud buster. She has helped take down gangs of fraudsters all across Romania. She isn’t a law enforcement agent for any government but instead works directly for ebay the giant online auction house. Ebay won’t disclose any dollar figures but does admit that Romania is the number one source of professional fraud. Last year there was an Internet fraud ring busted in Chicago that had its roots in Pitesti, Romania. On a November 2006 visit to the Romanian capital, Bucharest, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the vast majority of Internet fraud committed on “one prominent U.S. online auction website is connected to Romania or Romanians.”

Fraud is a big problem for ebay as it has built its reputation on the feedback system to determine if a seller or bidder is reputable or not. The whole system depends upon buyers and sellers trusting one another. If this becomes broke the whole system will be broken. Ebay users are deluged by phishing emails almost daily. Any one of which if mistaken for a real ebay message can give the thiefs all the knowledge they need to hack your account and list things in your good name. You must be ever vigilant and never ever under any circumstances click on a link in an email that claims to be from ebay or paypal either one. These schemes don’t cost ebay anything but could potentially cost you a bundle. They tend to gravitate towards high ticket items like laptops and cars. But not always. Be careful. I have read about an auction winner being told to send the money to Romania via Western Union, A practice that should put up a huge red flag for you. If the auction states they take paypal and then want only Western Union Funds contact ebay immediately. If they want the funds sent to somewhere other than where the users location says you should also be very wary and contact ebay. It is a good idea to have a good password that is very hard to guess. A mixture of letters and numbers is great. Changing it regularly is also a very good idea.

As Publilius Syrus said, “He is most free from danger, who, even when safe, is on his guard”.

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