Detective Chris Ockomon of the Anderson Police Department contacted eBay and made a special order this spring — one CD containing records of trading transactions made by a suspect in one of his theft cases.

But he couldn’t have found that CD on the auction block. For it, he had to contact the eBay Fraud Unit.

This unit is comprised of 12 individuals, six who work financial crimes and six who work merchant crimes. Jeremy R., the eBay fraud investigator whom Ockomon contacted for assistance with his investigation, estimated that each of those investigators responds to about 50 cases weekly.

That means approximately 31,200 allegations of fraud requiring attention occur in eBay users’ auctions per year. With a reported average of 42 million new items listed each week in its pages, that suggests less than one one-hundredth of 1 percent of eBay transactions are fraudulent.

Although they fight crime, Jeremy said most of the members of the fraud unit, based at eBay headquarters in San Jose, Calif., don’t have an extensive background in law enforcement or criminal investigations.

For example, Jeremy studied history and biology at a local California State University campus. After school, he got a job with eBay in its early stages in 1995 doing customer service, and then later technical support.

He said a fraud investigator position opened, and he applied. His experience dealing with both eBay’s technical and human sides made him an ideal candidate for the job. He’s been on it for eight years now.

Jeremy said he prefers to keep his full name off the record because of the ease with which some of the computer savvy offenders he has helped prosecute — and there are many — could track him electronically and steal his identity, ruin his credit or worse.

And although one cannot easily find contact information for the fraud unit on eBay’s Web site, Jeremy said they are always there behind the scenes.

“They’ve had a fraud unit as long as there’s been eBay,” he said.

Despite that fact, it is difficult to get through to the fraud unit because they primarily deal with law enforcement agencies, credit card companies and major cases. Rarely does a typical user complaint require their help, he said, because of eBay’s protections against liability and requests that buyers and sellers work out any disagreements on their own.

Mostly, Jeremy said, his cases don’t involve big-time criminals or even big business. Cases like Ockomon’s in Anderson are the exception.

“Generally, they’re really simple,” he said describing his assignments. But, it can range from violations where “a young son takes mom’s credit card and buys game time on the Internet, to complex cases involving bank fraud and (large scale) credit card fraud.”

Still, in other cases, such as that in which Jeremy assisted Anderson police late this spring and early summer, investigators like him cooperate with local law enforcement agencies in pursuit of suspects.

Jeremy provided eBay transaction records to APD so its detectives could implicate suspected thieves in the crimes. He said such agencies are beginning to realize the fraud unit has a simple, valuable resource — access to information.

“There’s a lot more fodder on their end,” Jeremy said. “They’re really willing to come to us because we can get a lot of information faster, and they’re a lot more likely to use it.”

Jeremy’s primary contact at APD was Ockomon, the lead investigator policing a theft ring involving Guide employees who are accused of stealing highly specialized industrial equipment from the factory and selling it to a local industrial equipment supply company on eBay.

But, Jeremy said he has seen stranger things.

Although the case in Anderson smacks of criminal folly, among other bizarre cases he has worked, he said one in particular sticks out in his memory.

It regarded a woman who had been listing items on eBay and letting bidders pay her, but she wouldn’t deliver the merchandise her auctions promised. Although her method was routine for an eBay “fraudster,” it was her motive that makes her unique. It may sound routine, Jeremy said, until you hear her motive.

“She was defrauding people to pay for her breast augmentation,” Jeremy said.

On the more sobering side of eBay fraud are the experiences of thousands of Hoosiers who suffered from online auction fraud in 2005, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a Web site hosted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center (NWC3).

The IC3 report on Indiana’s Internet crime during 2005 said that 3,668 complaints were processed from Indiana, and more than 62 percent of those involved online auction fraud, while about 13 percent more regarded the non-delivery of merchandise or payment agreed upon in an online auction.

The IC3 also reported a median $398 loss per complaint involving auction fraud, 94 percent of which actually reported losses. Another median $390 was reported lost per complaint involving non-delivery, 93 percent of which reported losses.

The June 22 arrests of three Anderson residents, Courtney D. Smith and wife Kelly L. Smith, and Courtney’s Guide co-worker James R. Gooding, by Anderson police were the result of a four-month investigation including additional efforts from six unnamed officials in management at Guide and Jeremy at eBay’s Fraud Unit.

According to previous reports in The Herald Bulletin, Guide officials contacted police on March 6 about manufacturing equipment missing from their facility. While Anderson police were jumping through legal hoops in their investigation, Guide officials were actually able to buy — through a local technology company — some of their own stolen equipment on eBay from a user account pertaining to Kelly Smith.

She delivered the goods to the Anderson company teamed up with Guide and their officials caught her on hidden camera.

Finally, in early April, Guide’s surveillance cameras caught Gooding on tape removing the company’s equipment. At the time, he wasn’t a primary suspect, so police lay in wait longer, hoping for activity to surface on Kelly Smith’s eBay account.

Nothing was happening, so Ockomon and others decided to contact eBay. Jeremy furnished them with a CD containing records of all of Kelly Smith’s transactions, and APD could finally establish probable cause for her and Gooding’s arrests. When they arrived at the Smith home to arrest her, her husband was home, taken in for questioning, and confessed to his involvement, police said.

Jeremy said he has been called to testify in court on behalf of law enforcement, and that he’s been “all over the country covering cases and doing seminars in online law enforcement with local agencies.

He said that police attitudes toward the eBay Fraud Unit have changed in recent years.

“We’ve been embraced recently,” Jeremy said. “There was a bit of reluctance at first as to whether we were a part of this (detective work), but we’re generally well liked now.”

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