Amazon Auction Bidders Burned

A Florida man apparently bilked nearly $28,000 from 91 different Amazon.com auction winners in a simple but effective computer parts scam.

A Florida man apparently bilked nearly $28,000 from 91 different Amazon.com auction winners in a simple but effective computer parts scam.

Amazon.com officials said that Oliver Walker of Archer, Fla., ran online "dutch" auctions for batches of memory chips and graphics cards, allegedly taking payments but failing to deliver the merchandise.

"It's one of the worst [fraud] cases we've had," Amazon.com spokeswoman Sharon Greenspan said. "We've shut him down."

So far, that's the worst that's happened to Walker, who used his real address and telephone number in the scam. He has since disconnected his phone. He couldn't be reached for comment.

Patrick Smith of Bothell, Wash., won highest bid in one of Walker's auctions on Sept. 7 for some graphics cards. The $750 bid was high enough to bring Smith to contact Walker by phone to make sure he was legit. Trust set in, and Smith sent a cashier's check the next day.

"He e-mailed me that he got it," Smith said.

That was the last he heard from Walker. Smith then started searching the Amazon.com auction site and, on finding 180 other winners of Walker's fake auctions, set up a database to track who had lost what. Smith posted warnings about Walker, and about half of the bidders managed to cancel payment en route.

Robert Luckens of Norristown, Pa., fell for a batch of DRAM chips to the tune of $925 and alerted local authorities in Florida. Other victims of the scam have done so as well. Local police in Florida and nearby FBI officials refused to comment on Walker and would not confirm any investigations.

"It's really a shame the authorities just sit on things like this," Luckens said.

Luckens and Smith didn't use escrow services because they make items more expensive, a common problem in the auction world. Many of the victims in this case aren't eligible for Amazon.com's free bidders insurance for items up to $250 in value because the company only started insuring dutch auctions on Sept. 30.

Greenspan said Amazon.com is investigating Walker and will gather evidence to bring him to justice. She gave no time frame for handing data over to law enforcement officials and would not confirm how many investigators Amazon.com employs.

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