Web scams grow, reach into community | SierraSun.com

Web scams grow, reach into community

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

John Walker never imagined he’d go from Internet boat advertiser to online gumshoe in about a month.

But, when several Internet fraud artists began hitting up his boat sales Web site attempting to rip off boat buyers, Walker, a resident of Tahoe’s west shore, began fighting back.

Walker owns and operates Internetboats.com, as well as two other sites that advertise motorcycles and RVs.

Recently, he began working with the U.S. Secret Service, which is tracking down leads in a case involving stolen credit cards, infiltrated bank accounts, and fraudulent online identities of several scammers.

“It’s amazing how these international scams can reach right into a little town like Homewood,” said Walker.

Through hard work Walker has detected the fraudulent advertisements before they hit his site.

“I’ve got to protect the customers,” said Walker.

He’s become a part-time Internet detective because he knows his businesses’ reputations are at stake.

“It gives people like my business a bad name because when the word gets out that someone was scammed, people shy away,” said Walker.

Now, Walker has set up a number of Internet pseudonyms he uses to lure the scammers into divulging information that could lead to their arrest.

“I’m working as three different people,” said Walker.

The Internet, with its relative anonymity and international scope, has an expanding crime problem, said Brian Korbs, resident agent in charge of the Sacramento office of the U.S. Secret Service.

“It’s growing,” said Korbs. “The Internet is being used more and more for commerce.”

The Secret Service ” as well as the FBI and other federal agencies ” tracks down homegrown Internet scams, as well as international rings of Web criminals.

“We see a lot of organized criminal groups in Eastern Europe, West Africa and Asia,” said Korbs.

The agencies warn consumers to be wary of scams since fraud artists are getting craftier and more innovative.

“Just like the number-one rule in business, be careful if you don’t know who you are dealing with,” said Korbs. “Be careful if you are solicited by someone you don’t know.”

Walker has received near-perfect replicas of Etrade accounts sent to him, and official-looking bank communications ” all fake ” attempting to con him out of either a deposit for a boat, or the full price of the craft.

If he fell for them, the thieves would have filched thousands of dollars.

So, Walker continues communicating with the criminals as three different people, trying to ensnare them in their own lies, and gather enough information for the U.S. Secret Service to prosecute.

And he keeps a close watch on his Internet site to protect his users.

But most of all, he’d like to help bring the criminals to justice.

“It’s getting interesting,” he said. “I’m going to hang in there until the authorities say ‘OK stop.’ It would be really nice to catch them.”