Watch out for Internet scams

Roger Lewis had a thing for hot rods and was looking for a good deal.

That's partly why the Craig man may never be fully reimbursed for a down payment on what seemed like a great deal for a 1941 Willys Coup automobile on eBay a few years ago.

"At first I was disappointed," Lewis said, thinking about the 2002 incident in which he was scammed out of $8,500. Lewis since has been reimbursed $2,500.

"Then I was mad," he said. "Then I wanted to get even."

Lewis ordered the car on eBay under the supposed agreement that he would pay half of the $17,500 selling price up front and pay the remainder when the car arrived at his home. Lewis sent in the payment, but the car never materialized.

While Lewis still would consider buying a vehicle on the Internet in the future, it won't be sight unseen.

"I don't think I'd send that much money away again," Lewis said from his home on Friday. "I think most people want to think that everybody's honest, but there are a few people out there who aren't."

Investigator Jeremy Ashton from the Moffat County Sheriff's Office said the department receives only a few reports of Internet fraud each year.

However, many cases of Internet fraud or suspected Internet fraud may go unreported to local law enforcement.

More than 207,000 complaints were lodged with the government's Internet Crime Complaint Center Web site in 2004. Almost three-fourths of those complaints are related to Internet auction fraud with the majority of those cases involving undelivered items.

Ashton said people should consider several factors before buying online.

"People are too busy looking at the low prices, that's how they get scammed," he said. "You have to look at the feedback."

Ashton said he personally wouldn't buy goods from an Internet auction site if a seller's rating falls lower than 96 percent. It also may not make sound business sense to buy from a person with only a limited number of sales.

"If it's a power seller you're probably not going to get scammed," he said.

Ashton also advised that buyers should be warned if a seller asks for a bank account number or a Social Security number.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations reiterated that point, saying on its Web site that a seller should have no reason to request a person's driver's license number or Social Security number.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Amy Fitch said residents who believe they have been scammed should try to press charges. She said those cases aren't hard to prosecute; however, it may be hard to serve a summons.

In Lewis' case, for example, serving a summons to alleged perpetrator Shane McClure of Oklahoma, is out of the local law enforcement's range, Ashton said. A warrant still is out for his arrest.

Lewis said he is resigned to the fact he probably won't see his money again. However, he is surprised by the fact that going through the court system hasn't much helped his case.

"If it sounds too good to be true," he said, "it probably is."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com

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