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Financial Crimes
07/22/2013

Romanian man involved in eBay auction fraud scheme pleads guilty

SEATTLE – A Romanian national who traveled to the U.S. to facilitate an online auction scheme to scam eBay buyers pleaded guilty Monday to bank fraud, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Daniel Munteanu, 29, was arrested May 1 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as he attempted to board a flight to Amsterdam. According to court records, after coming to the U.S. in April, Munteanu used counterfeit passports to open bank accounts and mailbox rentals. Using the accounts, mail drops and bogus eBay emails he and his co-conspirators scammed five victims out of more than $120,000.

Prosecutors say Munteanu’s co-conspirators selected victims by contacting those who had been unsuccessful in bidding for boats, cars, farm equipment or other vehicles on eBay. Posing as the original sellers, the co-conspirators would contact the victim and seek to negotiate the sale of the item the victim had bid on in the auction. After striking a deal, victims would receive emails appearing to be from eBay and their "Purchase Protection Plan." The emails even had a link to an eBay "live help" function. But the emails and links were fraudulent. Purchasers thought their payments were going into a secure escrow account until they could inspect the vehicles. Instead, the purchasers’ money went directly to accounts opened in false names by Munteanu using phony passports. Munteanu controlled the accounts and quickly moved the money off shore to co-conspirators in Romania.

"The vast majority of online auctions are legitimate, which leaves consumers who’ve had positive online buying experiences with a false sense of security," said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. "The defendant and his co-conspirators exploited this vulnerability to swindle their victims. While HSI works closely with its law enforcement partners here and overseas to aggressively target this type of crime, consumers must take steps to protect themselves."

"This type of fraud erodes trust and undermines legitimate online commerce, and we will track down and prosecute scam artists," said U. S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. "I appreciate the efforts of the Homeland Security Investigations agents who pursued this case and protected the victims."

Munteanu faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington.