Bulgarian woman charged in eBay conspiracy

FBI says alleged member of Eastern European crime group defrauded Americans out of $350,000 through false ads for lavish items.

The FBI has apprehended a Bulgarian woman who allegedly scammed American eBay buyers out of $350,000 on offers of lavish merchandise they never received.

U.S. agents teamed up with authorities in Budapest, Hungary to arrest Mariyana Feliksova Lozanova on March 22, according to an agency press release issued Monday. The arrest took place about three weeks after a federal grand jury in Washington returned an indictment charging Lozanova with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The alleged scheme worked something like this, according to the indictment: Between March and April of last year, Lozanova and her associates allegedly advertised expensive wares, such as motor vehicles and boats, on the eBay auction site. Those interested in buying the goods were contacted directly by e-mail and instructed to wire their payments through a system called "eBay Secure Traders," which purported to transmit the money to a "secure escrow account" while their items were delivered, but in fact had nothing to do with the auction giant.

Those who fell prey to the scenario never received the items they thought they were purchasing. They also never received a refund of their payments, which were allegedly wired directly to one of several bank accounts in Hungary or Slovakia that were controlled by Lozanova and others. Lozanova allegedly opened her bank accounts using a phony Canadian passport that identified her as Gentiane LaFrance and a false U.K. passport that identified her as Elizabeth Naomi DeBont.

If convicted, Lozanova could receive up to 20 years in prison for the wire fraud conspiracy charges and as much as a decade for the money laundering conspiracy charges. She could also face fines of more than $500,000, along with forfeitures and restitution payments to the buyers the scheme allegedly ensnared.

Complaints about Internet auction fraud have far outnumbered those in other online realms--such as identity theft and child pornography--in recent years, but those numbers are dropping, according to a 2006 report by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (PDF), a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. In a 28.4 percent decline from their 2005 levels, auction-related gripes composed 44.9 percent of the some 90,000 complaints referred to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies during 2006.

The FBI said the four agents on its Budapest Task Force, which also includes six members of the Hungarian National Bureau of Investigation, are continuing to investigate other allegedly criminal incidents in the region. According to the FBI, the task force was created in April 2000 to "address the increasing threat of Eurasian organized crime groups to the United States."

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    Anne Broache
    covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
     

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