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For Immediate Release
April 30, 2003
Contact: Sean Caine, 410-576-6357
scaine@oag.state.md.us

CURRAN ISSUES CEASE AND DESIST ORDER
TO INTERNET AUCTION SELLER
Effort Part of Crackdown by 28 States and FTC

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. announced today that his Consumer Protection Division has issued a cease and desist order against a Towson man who defrauded Internet auction buyers. Using the eBay and Yahoo auction sites, Michael Johnson sold goods that included pool cues, Pokemon cards and rare record albums to consumers, but didn't provide the items.

The Division knows of 10 consumers who were defrauded by Johnson, and who are collectively owed $8,247. Several lost more than $1,000 each. The Division ordered Johnson to repay the consumers, and to post a $20,000 bond with the Division if he intends to continue selling goods via the Internet, to protect future consumers who might buy from him. While he was engaged in the auction transactions, Johnson lived in a rented room in Towson.

The action against Johnson was part of a crackdown by 28 state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission targeting Internet auction scams. The crackdown, dubbed Operation Bidder Beware, resulted in more than 55 criminal and civil cases.

Also part of the crackdown was the settlement announced in January between the Consumer Protection Division and Michael Rymer of Germantown, Maryland. Rymer agreed to pay $142,738.85 total in restitution to 82 consumers who purchased notebook computers from him through eBay, but never got the computers. Rymer also agreed to stop selling goods over the Internet unless he posts a $20,000 surety bond with the Division. Rymer was also assessed a $20,000 provisional penalty.

"The nature of Internet auctions creates risk for both buyer and seller," Curran said. "We continue to urge consumers to do their homework before they begin bidding."

Curran said that the risk in Internet auctions is that consumers are dealing with strangers whose identities or locations can be hard to verify. While consumers are often told to check a seller's feedback rating on an auction site, that is not a guarantee against fraud, he said. For example, he said that Michael Rymer had been selling items satisfactorily on eBay for several years before he began defrauding customers. In the case of Michael Johnson, however, consumers might have been concerned by his lack of a positive rating. Johnson did not have a lengthy history because he would rip off a few consumers, then set up under a new name.

Curran offered these tips to consumers:

  • Become familiar with the auction site. Find out what protections the auction site offers buyers. Don't assume one site's rules are the same as another's.
  • Before bidding, find out all you can about the seller. Avoid doing business with sellers you can't identify, especially those who try to lure you off the auction site with promises of a better deal.
  • If the seller insists on using a particular escrow or online payment service you've never heard of, check it out. Visit its Web site and call its customer service line. If there isn't one, or you call and can't reach someone, don's use that service.
  • Protect your privacy. Never provide your Social Security number, driver's license number, credit card number, or bank account information until you have checked out the seller and the online payment or escrow service, if you're using one, to ensure legitimacy.
  • Save all transaction information.
  • Check out Internet Auctions: A Guide for Buyers and Sellers, available at http://www.bbb.org for other tips on how to avoid Internet auction fraud.
A comprehensive list of the cases brought by the states and the Federal Trade Commission is available at www.ftc.gov.

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