For the one victim MSNBC interviewed -- who requested anonymity after a threat from the scam artist -- it worked like this: The innocent shopper spotted a pricey item for sale on an auction Web site -- a high-end Sony video camera that retails for about $2,000. But at the bottom of the auction, the seller noted he or she was willing to sell the camera directly to anyone willing to pay $1,299.
"How the heck can I lose?" said the victim at the time. But in the background, here's what happened. Using the home address and other information provided by the victim, the scam artist opened an account at a Web retailer -- in this case, OnSale.com. Then, using a stolen credit card number with a high credit limit, the criminal ordered the camera at full retail price and had it shipped directly to the victim.
When the camera arrived, the buyer was then instructed to wire the money directly to the seller -- in this case, to the Latvian bank, named Paritate Bank. The transaction was never completed, because in this case, the buyer got suspicious and returned the camera.
But the victim told MSNBC that others had fallen for the scam, meaning the buyer was left holding stolen property; an anonymous victim had a fraudulent charge on their credit card account; a Web merchant had delivered stolen goods; and the criminal received $1,299 cash in an untraceable, overseas account.
Fortunately, the victim MSNBC identified stopped short of wiring the cash because Egghead.com's fraud department had noted the suspicious activity and called him. (Egghead owns OnSale.com.)
The scam was first reported last weekend on a Web site devoted to video-camera enthusiasts named "Steve's DigiCams." That site's publisher declined comment for this story and has since removed the story at request of the victim.
A spokesperson for Egghead.com confirmed the details the victim shared with MSNBC. "It was a European credit card .... That definitely raises a few red flags," said the spokeswoman. She said the scam artist hadn't victimized OnSale.com before, but added, "We don't think this was his first time."
According to the victim, the same seller was selling the same camera on Yahoo! and eBay auction sites last week.