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Local eBay seller has money, ID stolen online

Spotsylvania resident Tony Hahn, 18, fell victim to a scam while selling his motorcycle on eBay.

Local man falls victim to online scam.


1/22/2005 - Tony Hahn has sold dozens of items on eBay with no problems. So the 18-year-old Spotsylvania resident was floored when he ended up losing several thousands of dollars in an online scam. Worse, the Internet thief is using Hahn's identity to scam others. "I never thought it would happen to me," Hahn said. "I was so naïve."

Online scams are becoming more sophisticated as the Internet ages, and even savvy computer users, like Hahn, can get caught up.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, there were 63,316 fraudulent complaints in 2003. More than 60 percent were related to Internet auction fraud. In all, victims reported a total loss of $125.6 million--money that they probably won't see again.

That's what Hahn is discovering. Though he's been chasing his money and identity for months, he hasn't made much progress.

Tony's story
Hahn received an e-mail offer in October from someone who called himself "Terry Ray," an auto agent based in Nigeria. He said he wanted to buy the 1982 Honda CM-250 motorcycle Hahn posted on eBay.

They had telephone and e-mail conversations about the sale. Ray persuaded Hahn to bypass using eBay's PayPal system--a free, secure service to ensure safe transactions.

Within a few weeks, a cashier's check for $4,000 arrived--four times the $1,000 asking price.

In an e-mail exchange, Ray told Hahn the check was from his client. It included payment for the bike, his commission as the agent and the fee for shipping overseas, he said. He instructed Hahn to wire the remaining balance to a shipping company in Nigeria as soon as the check cleared.

Hahn took the check to the National Bank of Fredericksburg on Courthouse Road. He was told it had to sit for a day until he could cash it. The following day, he withdrew the extra $3,000 and wired it, as instructed, to Ocean Airliners, a shipping company in Nigeria.

"Honestly, I thought it was weird," Hahn said. "But I figured I was done since I had my money."

Hahn waited for a call from the shipping company that was supposed to pick up the bike. Instead he got a call from the bank saying the check hadn't cleared and that he had to pay back the amount that was missing--more than $3,000.

Like most victims of Internet scams, Hahn was left holding the bag. He'll have to make up for the amount that he wired and any money spent from his account.

The only responsibility a bank has to its customers is to make sure each person's money is safe and accounted for. When a check is endorsed, the signer is upholding the validity of that check, bank officials say.

But each bank handles their policies differently.

"If we paid something we should not have, [the bank will] take the loss," said John Daniel, a senior vice president with The National Bank of Fredericksburg. "But if [a customer] takes money and gives it to a con man, we didn't do anything wrong. We can't control what a customer does with the money after they leave the bank."

If cashier's checks or other government checks are involved, the liability is determined on a case by case basis, he said.

However, the final responsibility lies with the depositor, Daniel said. Beyond that, there are federal, state and internal regulations.

What to do
The Federal Trade Commission works to protect the consumer from fraudulent and unfair business practices and to help individuals spot, stop and avoid them.

But after it happens, there's not much one can do but report it.

Steve Baker, director of the Commission's midwest region, advises anyone who thinks he or she may have been targeted by an online scammer to file a complaint with the FTC.

"In terms of remedy, all you can do is file a complaint," Baker said. "As far as getting your money back, the prospects are slim."

In most cases, the victim never gets his money back, he said.

Baker also said there's a misconception that victims of online scams should have known better.

"These scams are very carefully thought out. 'Con man' stands for 'confidence man,' and what they do is take your confidence," he said. "People say it only happens to stupid people, but everyone is at risk for this kind of thing."

After being duped, Hahn called the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office, which referred him to the FBI, which referred him to the Secret Service.

"[The Secret Service] told me some people have lost more than $20,000. And since I only lost $4,000, they couldn't do anything with it," Hahn said. "They wouldn't even file a report."

Matthew McNally, assistant special agent in charge of the Secret Services' field office in Richmond, said that shouldn't have happened.

"There is no specific minimum amount that we will or will not investigate," McNally said. "There are other factors, like jurisdiction and what's involved with the case, but generally it would be investigated."

Jurisdiction has been a big roadblock between international scam artists and U.S. authorities.

Ken Schrad, spokesman for the Virginia State Corporation Commission's Bureau of Insurance, said when the scammer is outside of Virginia or U.S. borders there is nothing they can do. But he said victims shouldn't depend on the government to bail them out.

"There are plenty of warnings about these thing, and I don't know why people would respond to them," Schrad said. "The individual has to take responsibility."

What now?
Hahn was planning to attend trade school in Massachusetts this month, but he had to put those plans on hold to pay off his debt. He took out a loan to repay the bank and is now working as a mechanic.

"This has made me worry more about my financial situation," said the 2004 graduate of Spotsylvania High School. "I'm trying to do things on my own. I'd hate to burden my parents with my problems."

But the scam continued.

Just as Hahn was trying to get back on track, he started receiving mail and other bills at his home addressed to Terry Ray.

One piece of mail included a returned cashier's check for $4,200. The sender, a man from Milwaukee, Wis., wrote that he sold the item to another bidder since a payment method was not agreed on.

The fact that people may link scams to Hahn's address has his family concerned.

"It does worry me because I keep thinking someone might try to come to our home looking for my son," said Hahn's mother, Theresa Hahn. "This is a hard lesson at 18 to have to learn."

Tony Hahn said he has learned a lot from this experience and will be more cautious in future online transactions.

He recently re-listed his 1982 motorcycle on eBay, but this time he will use PayPal and only deal with local bidders.

To reach PORTSIA SMITH: 540/374-5419

Date published: 1/22/2005

Peterson guards’ restraint praised


April 15, 2006 - Air Force and civilian guards were commended Friday for showing restraint when a woman drove through a gate at Peterson Air Force Base before being caught near the flight line.

After reviewing Thursday morning’s incident, commanders praised contract security guards and military police involved in the short chase on base for not using deadly force.

Arlene Johnston, 62, of Colorado Springs, was flanked by four military police vehicles for about a mile after she entered the base by driving around other vehicles at the north gate while honking her horn and going over the sidewalk. She was boxed in and captured without a struggle and is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.

“We’re commending our people for what they did yesterday,” said 1st Lt. Kevin Lombardo, operations officer with the 21st Security Forces Squadron. “They did their jobs. They determined where she was going to go and determined where she wasn’t going to go. At no time was anyone here at Peterson in jeopardy.”

Security experts on Thursday were quick to criticize base officials over the security breach. Their main concern was that Johnston was able to get so far on the base, which is home to U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for protecting America from terrorist attack, and Air Force Space Command, which controls the nation’s network of military satellites and nuclear-tipped missiles.

Brett Lambert, owner of The Densmore Group, a national security consulting firm in Washington, D.C., said the breach indicated serious problems.

“There’s no excuse for breaches of perimeter security. That is what they’re trained for,” Lam- bert said. “If we truly are, as we’re being told, at war, then all bases should be on a war footing. I think it just demonstrates that the rhetoric of security doesn’t match the actuality.”

Lombardo disagreed, saying the situation was handled properly. He said a civilian guard at the gate attempted to stop Johnston, and in that exchange determined she wasn’t a probable terrorist.

“A terrorist could be anybody, but he determined that deadly force was not even in his mind,” Lombardo said.

Though the civilian guards, hired in December, were given a two-week training course before starting work, he said the vast majority of the guards are military veterans and they have had additional training the past several months with their military counterparts.

He said guards and military police are empowered to shoot intruders deemed to be serious threats, but are also asked to used good judgment to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.

Instead of pulling his gun, the guard grabbed his radio and alerted nearby Air Force security police to the situation, and they responded quickly.

“Within five seconds, she was totally boxed in,” Lombardo said.

The guard, an employee of Akal Security, a New Mexicobased government contractor, also decided not to use the base’s emergency traffic barricades, which are designed to pop up to block the path of gate-crashers. Lombardo said other cars were in the area and their occupants could have been injured by the gates, which take less than a second to come up and block the road.

Instead, Lombardo said, security police boxed the woman between their cars and led her to a dead end. The woman was taken into custody by airmen, then handed over to Colorado Springs police, who have jurisdiction over civilian crimes at Peterson.

Johnston was taken to a hospital for a psychological evaluation Thursday. Police spokesman Lt. Rafael Cintron said the woman, who was cited for a number of misdemeanors, was probably referred for a three-day evaluation. He had no further information on her status Friday.

Responding to criticism, Lombardo said every step in the pursuit of Johnston marked a careful security-driven decision. First, military police surrounded her car, leading her away from populated areas of the base and high-security office buildings.

Then, military police determined where the chase could be safely brought to a halt, he said.

“Our procedures worked,” he said. “Our people are being commended for what they did. We had control the entire time.”

Lombardo emphasized, though, that other would-be gate crashers who are considered more of a threat may not get the same treatment.

“We had every right to shoot her, like any other serious security threat,” he said. “We chose not to.”



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