Authorities have dismantled an international Web-based Romanian fraud ring that made millions of dollars by advertising and accepting payment for nonexistent vehicles on several popular trading and online auction sites.
The alleged con artists, five of whom were arrested this week in the United States and abroad, used fake passports with sophisticated holograms that purported to be issued by several European countries, including Spain and the Netherlands.
American money mules used the passports with fake names to open fraudulent and difficult-to-trace accounts, a criminal complaint filed in U.S. court said.
The fraud also used service markers in emails so messages appeared to be official communications from eBay, Cars.com and AutoTrader.com. [ Your Computerized Car Could Fall Prey to Hackers ]
The scam worked so well, in part, because the criminals saturated the sites with tons of fake ads with American-sounding seller names, such as "Stephen Wonder and "Kelly Grondin," tech site Ars Technica pointed out.
Victims, who were taken to the tune of between $10,000 and $45,000, were also duped with recycled sales documents, altered by only a few digits, and sent to victims in multiple states across the country.
According to the complaint, some of the money was laundered through the purchase and overseas shopping of watches. In one case, money was stashed inside of a hollowed-out audio speaker.
Classified posts that appear to be from the scam remain up, Ars reported, including a '97 Fleetwood Storm being sold by Mary, with details identical to an ad that's already duped at least one man.
Police were able to take the ring down thanks in part to an informant who agreed to let the FBI monitor Skype, email and other communications in order to collect evidence.
If convicted, each defendant, all in their 30s or 40s, will face a maximum of 20 years in prison for fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges.