Thursday, May 1, 2003

State sues computer sellers


Attention focused on Internet fraud

By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Internet auctions may always be a "buyer beware" proposition for consumers. But with Wednesday's announcement of a federally coordinated crackdown on online auction fraud, unscrupulous sellers might want to be wary as well.

The Federal Trade Commission is taking on a problem that generated more complaints than any other Internet-related activity in 2002. It said Wednesday that a sweep involving the attorneys general of 29 states, called Operation Bidder Beware, has resulted in the filing of 57 criminal and civil auction fraud cases.

The Ohio case, filed Feb. 27, involves four Cincinnati men accused of defrauding 37 people out of more than $26,000 in online purchases of computers. Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro is asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel to order full refunds and the payment of fines.

"Internet purchases in auctions are becoming a hotbed for scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting customers," Petro said. "My office will take firm action against anyone found to rip off Ohioans in that manner."

The FTC hopes the crackdown will help educate people about the risks of Internet auctions and the methods used by fly-by-night operators with fake online identities.

In the Cincinnati case, the AG's office accused Gregory A. McGruder, Antonio C. Bonds, Marvin O. Jackson and Joseph M. Gordon of swindling computer buyers in transactions that originated on the eBay, uBid and Yahoo auction sites.

In most instances, the buyers wound up buying direct and were given discounts for wiring money through Western Union. Buyers, from as far away as California, thought they were dealing with a Crown Jewel Computers on Vine Street or a Web site called Godstoystore.com.

None of the defendants is listed in the telephone book and none has filed an answer to the state's lawsuit. Crown Jewel Computers likewise is not listed.

Petro, citing the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, wants the judge to order restitution of $26,431. In its latest filing last week, Petro seeks a fine of $150,000 against McGruder and a suspended $25,000 fine against Gordon.

E-mail jmcnair@enquirer.com.




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