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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 October 2005, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
'How I lost cash in online scam'
As three Romanian fraudsters start their jail sentences for conning eBay customers out of 300,000, one regular online buyer tells the BBC News website how he fell for the scam and lost his cash.

eBay and PayPal
eBay warns buyers against using money transfers for transactions

Derek, from north London, is a self-confessed gadget geek who also makes a living from working in the technology business.

He has asked that we change his name, not least because he feels he, more than most, should have known better than to fall for an online con.

Ironically, it was his obsession with technology that caused him to let his guard down.

When he saw a new state-of-the-art mobile phone for sale on eBay earlier this year - one not yet on general release - he went for it on a 'buy it now' fixed price basis.

At 300 it was a real bargain says Derek, who expected the phones would go for up to 200 more.

"I'd been looking out for this new phone for about a year, when I saw it appear on eBay.

"I was far too eager to get a bargain. It was a brand new phone on the market, and being a complete gadget freak, that sort of took over.

I got a horrible feeling in my stomach - I thought 'I think I've just been ripped off'
Derek, London

"I've used eBay quite a lot, and had occasionally made transactions outside the site's own system, such as when I bought Glastonbury tickets at the last minute. I contacted the seller and offered cash there and then. We met up in London and did it face to face."

When Derek offered to buy the phone via the eBay messaging system, the seller - calling himself 'George' - got in contact to ask whether he'd like a second one, which he declined.

"He said I should call Western Union to make the money transfer. When I asked him why he didn't have a PayPal account he said his wife had had a car accident in Romania and they needed the money immediately.

"He said he had been living in Glasgow and working in the phone industry, which was how he had got hold of this phone.

"I even emailed him to say I hoped his wife's condition was not too serious!"

Tracked email

The pair spoke at one point, for the seller to relay a code number that was needed for the money transfer to be collected in Glasgow.

"It was after that personal contact that I went through with the Western Union transaction.

"I had had an email message from eBay reminding me to complete the transaction via their site, but I wasn't worried at that stage because I'd had that kind of message before when I bought the Glastonbury tickets.

"But it was when I started to think through the Western Union thing that I got a horrible feeling in my stomach, and I thought 'I think I've just been ripped off'."

Attempts to contact the man by email and phone failed.

Being a "geek" meant he was able to track down where the seller's original email had been sent from, through tracing his internet provider, says Derek.

Nicolae and Adriana Cretanu
Nicolae and Adriana Cretanu operated from London

That turned out to be a Romanian company called Telemobil. The mobile phone call had also been made from Romania, he discovered, but he does not know for sure whether the man was one of those jailed this week.

"I started to feel really uneasy about it all. I had that feeling in my stomach, similar to the way you feel when you walk into a casino with 50, you're sat there at one point with 500, but you ending up walking out with 5.

"There's a gut feeling you get then that makes you not want to repeat it. You know in the back of you're mind you have been very stupid."

The experience has made Derek more careful but hasn't put him off buying online.

"There are some real bargains to be had. I recently bought a couple of MP3 players from a guy in China.

"The happy ending is that I have learned something from the experience."


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