Three Romanians were jailed on Friday in London for their part in an alleged worldwide fraud carried out via Internet auction house eBay, which netted at least 300,000 pounds ($535,000).
Some 3,000 victims from as far away as the United States and South Korea were snared by the trio in the electronic scam that involved crime bosses in Romania and which police fear continues to this day.
Judge Duncan Matheson sentenced Nicolae Cretanu, 30, to 3-1/2 years, his wife Adriana Cretanu 23, and their accomplice George Titar, 26, to 30 months each.
"This was on any showing a major and sophisticated fraud," Matheson told the Romanians as they stood in the dock at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court.
"It exploited perceived weaknesses in the eBay system."
Between 2003 and 2005 the three had played a major role in the fraud which worked by operating bogus auctions for consumer goods ranging from scooters to military memorabilia.
Unsuspecting eBayers who tried to buy the fictitious goods were contacted and told their bid had been unsuccessful.
The disappointed bidders were then offered a second chance to buy similar goods outside the eBay system which provides some security from fraud.
Through a variety of aliases and using a number of forged Belgian passports the Romanians made hundreds of collections from Western Union money transfer outlets in London.
They kept about 30 percent of the money they stole, the rest they passed onto crime bosses in Romania.
Police officers are concerned the scam continues to be perpetuated by other individuals who have not been arrested and convicted. British police sources said in all likelihood the fraud had actually been far greater.
"The 300,000 pounds refers to the amount we could easily trace that they had defrauded people of, but it is likely the real amount was far higher," one officer said.