Attorney General Hardy Myers today filed court actions in Marion and Lane County Circuit Courts against two mid-Willamette Valley Internet retailers as part of "Operation Bidder Beware," a law enforcement sweep of Internet auction scams coordinated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in conjunction with the National Association of Attorneys General.
"Our consumer protection office has experienced a "spike" in Internet auction complaints in the last two years with that category jumping from number six to four on the Top 10 Consumer Complaint List," Myers said. "Nationally, auction fraud is the single largest category of Internet-related complaints and combating this large of a problem on the Internet can only be done by using a law enforcement team approach."
"State Attorneys General partnering with all jurisdictions of law enforcement from the Pacific to the Atlantic has proven to be the most effective defensive vehicle to use on the super highway," Myers explained.
Named in Assurances of Voluntary Compliance filed today in Salem and Eugene, respectively, are Terry James Harris of Keizer and Brienne Wait of Eugene, both of whom sold computers and electronic items through Internet auction sites. Neither assurance admits violation of law.
Oregon Department of Justice investigators found that Harris had sold video/electronic equipment through eBay to four consumers and then failed to deliver the goods or provide refunds upon request by consumers. Consumer losses ranged between $75 and $2,960.
Harris agrees to within the next 270 days, provide $4,000 in total refunds to consumers who did not receive merchandise or who received merchandise other than what they ordered and provide proof of refunds to Justice. If Harris complies with all the provisions in the agreement, Justice will suspend a $2,500 payment to the Consumer Protection and Education fund.
At least 25 consumer complaints were filed against Brienne Wait for selling computers and electronic equipment via Internet auctions and failing to deliver any goods or provide refunds. Justice investigators and Eugene Police Department officers investigated Wait for civil and criminal violations, respectively. Wait opted to sign a civil agreement with the Attorney General's office in lieu of facing criminal charges.
Under her agreement, Wait has 180 days to make refunds and must refrain from any Internet commerce until the conditions in the assurance are satisfied. Justice will wave all but $500 of a $5,000 deposit to the Consumer Protection and Education fund if she adheres to all terms of the agreement.
Attorney General Myers also announced an earlier filing of a third Assurance of Voluntary in Union County Circuit Court against Larry Stevens of LaGrande and his business Xanadu Systems, Inc. for selling computers via Internet auctions and failing to deliver the goods to consumers and selling used goods as new.
Justice investigated 37 complaints against Stevens in cooperation with the LaGrande Police Department. Stevens signed the Justice assurance, agreeing to repay victims and be permanently enjoined from selling on the Internet. Stevens also was arrested on charges of Theft by Deception and Identity Theft and later plead guilty to the ID Theft charge and was extradited to Idaho for probation violation.
As part of the Internet Auction Fraud Sweep, the FTC and 28 state attorneys general filed over 55 criminal and civil cases. Joining the FTC and Oregon are attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin and members of California's Computer and Technology Crime High Tech Response Team, including the San Diego District Attorney, San Diego City Attorney, Orange County District Attorney and Orange Police Department.
Consumers wanting to reduce the risk of being a victim of Internet auction fraud can do the following:
Know the auction site. Find out what protections the auction site offers buyers and don't assume all sites'; rules are the same.
Before bidding, check out the seller. Avoid sellers that you can't easily identify, especially those who try to lure you off the auction site with promises of a better deal.
Watch out for escrow or online payment services that you've never heard of. Check them out by visiting their websites and calling their customer service lines. If you can't find either, don't use them.
Protect your privacy. Don't provide personal financial information such as credit card or bank account numbers or Social Security or driver's license numbers until you've checked them out.
Save all transaction information.
If you are having problems with a transaction, complain to the seller, buyer or site operator. If that doesn't work, file a complaint with the Attorney General's office and the FTC.
Consumers wanting more information on consumer protection and Internet Auctions can call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. The Federal Trade Commission toll-free number is 1-877-382-4357. Justice is online at www.doj.state.or.us and the FTC is online at www.ftc.gov. Both have booklets on Internet Auction Buying.