Buyers, sellers beware on the Internet

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Earlier this month, Steamboat Springs resident Kurt Wipperfurth thought he was getting a second chance on a great deal.

Although a bid he placed on a professional, multitrack digital recorder offered on eBay was not the highest bid, Wipperfurth received what he thought was a legitimate e-mail from eBay informing him that he had the chance to purchase the item.

He realized only after sending more than $1,000 overseas that the situation was a hoax.

"The thing that's really interesting, is it's (normally) a completely legitimate transaction," Wipperfurth said.

Wipperfurth is one of several Steamboat residents who have reported possible fraud through seemingly legitimate transactions on eBay and other online shopping sites in the past three to four months, Steamboat Springs police Sgt. Rich Brown said.

On Dec. 9, Wipperfurth received an e-mail from what looked like the eBay Security Center notifying him that the top bidder was either unable to complete the transaction or the seller had a duplicate item. The "second chance offer" instructed Wipperfurth to click on an eBay link to reply to the e-mail if he was interested in purchasing the recorder for his $1,500 bid.

After replying, Wipperfurth received a second e-mail with payment details specifying he transfer the money to Western Union in London, which in turn would send the money to the seller's payment address.

The e-mail stated Wipperfurth's purchase was protected by a $20,000 deposit the seller made in an "eBay managed purchase protection account." Any refund resulting from fraud or other problems would be made from that account, according to the e-mail.

Every e-mail sent to Wipperfurth had a link that took him directly to what looked like a legitimate e-mail address, he said.

Wipperfurth replied with more questions involving the security of his money. He received e-mails -- again appearing to be from eBay -- reassuring him the transaction was safe. He also went directly to eBay's site and found the exact information regarding purchase protection, he said.

Wipperfurth wired the money to Western Union on Dec. 14 but never received e-mail confirmation that the seller received the money or confirmation of the tracking number of the digital equipment the seller was supposed to send to Wipperfurth.

He contacted Western Union in London, which reported that the money had been signed for about an hour after Wipperfurth sent the money.

He backtracked to the original eBay listing for the digital recorder and contacted the seller, who reportedly had sent the item to the top bidder. Wipperfurth's suspicions of fraud were confirmed when he scrutinized copies he made of his e-mail correspondence and found the URL addresses differed from the real eBay URLs by several characters.

"This person basically took eBay's second chance offer and duplicated it on a separate URL," he said.

Wipperfurth has e-mailed eBay's customer service department regarding the situation but has received only a general reply with links to fraud protection information, he said.

"We have not received any personal contact through a phone call or specific e-mail," Wipperfurth said.

The Steamboat Springs Police Department is limited in what it can do to help Wipperfurth because the case involves an international jurisdiction, Brown said.

The case has been forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which plans to subpoena Western Union records in an effort to track down the person or people responsible, Wipperfurth said.

"It's left me feeling very vulnerable," he said, adding that the situation has made him worried about confidential information he has used in all his Internet transactions.

Possible fraud occurrences are not limited to buyers. On Wednesday, Steamboat police received a complaint from a man who reportedly advertised a stereo receiver for sale on a non-eBay site.

The man said he received an e-mail from a person interested in purchasing the item. The person declined to give the seller a phone number, so all communication regarding the transaction took place via e-mail, Brown said.

The person reportedly sent the seller a cashier's check for $4,800, which was $4,200 more than the seller's asking price. The buyer also included instructions to send the receiver to St. Petersburg, Russia.

Automatically suspicious, the seller took the check to a bank, which confirmed it was a fake, Brown said.

In general, complaints police have received regarding possible Internet fraud have two things in common: They typically involve a request to send money or an item to an international address, and correspondence between perceived buyers and sellers usually takes place only through e-mail, Brown said.

In addition to using reference services on sites such as eBay, Brown also recommended buyer and sellers speak to others involved in the transactions over the phone.

But Officer Bill Stucker, who handled both cases, recommended residents avoid buying and selling items on the Internet altogether.

"It may sound good, it may look good," he said. "But don't do it."

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