THE UNITED STATES Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has cast a net in the hopes of catching a criminal gang that it believes has stolen as much as $3m from eBay users.
Nicolae Popescu, 33, is described as a Romanian fugitive and the leader of a gang of scammers. He is on the FBI most wanted list and is therefore the subject of an inglorious wanted poster.
The scheme he is accused of leading saw a gang post adverts for low-priced used vehicles on the eBay, Cars.com and Autotrader.com websites.
"Nicolae Popescu is wanted for his alleged participation in a sophisticated internet fraud scheme where criminal enterprise conspirators, based in Romania and elsewhere in Europe, posted advertisements on internet auction market sites for merchandise for sale," said the poster.
"Such advertisements contained images and descriptions of vehicles and other items for sale, but those items did not really exist."
Bad form if this is proved to be correct, and the FBI has reached out to other countries and Interpol for assistance.
It was a fairly sophisticated outfit, while it lasted, but in total 12 people have been charged with involvement in it. Six defendants have already been pinched, but six are still out there.
"Using forged documents and phony websites, for years Popescu and his criminal syndicate reached across the ocean to pick the pockets of hard working Americans looking to purchase cars," said attorney Loretta Lynch of the Eastern District of New York.
"They thought their distance would insulate them from law enforcement scrutiny. They were wrong. By now, Popescu and his band of fugitives have seen their co-conspirators brought here to account for their crimes. Today's actions place them squarely in the sights of our partners in international law enforcement. We will not stop in our efforts to find these fugitives and bring them to justice for the crimes they have allegedly committed against our citizens."
FBI assistant director in charge George Venizelos popped up and remembered to use the word "alleged" as he spoke about the auction fraud scheme to the press.
"As alleged, the defendants infiltrated the cyber marketplace with advertisements for high-value items that didn't exist," he said.
"They siphoned funds from victims to fuel their greedy desires and created false identities, fake websites and counterfeit certificates of title in order to make the scheme more convincing. Popescu and his co-conspirators were masters of illusion, but they can't escape their ultimate reality. With the help of our law enforcement partners at home and abroad, we will bring them to justice." µ