Pennsylvania authorities this week arrested four people accused of shoplifting hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise and selling it through eBay live auctions and local pawn shops.
Pennsylvania law enforcement authorities this week arrested four people accused of shoplifting hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise and selling it through eBay live auctions and local pawn shops. A statewide investigating grand jury indicted the four after a 22-month long investigation dubbed “Operation eBay.”
According to the grand jury indictment, the four people allegedly were ringleaders of schemes in which heroin addicts and others were recruited to steal merchandise from stores. Those items-often in their original packaging that displayed price stickers and other labeling from the stores from which they were taken-included sporting goods, appliances, and electronics. The ring also sold industrial equipment, including compressors, paint sprayers and other heavy-duty equipment stolen from businesses and construction sites, the indictment charges.
Named in the indictment were Michael Daniel Friedenberger, Brian Patrick Wyland, Lynette Michelle Friedenberger, and Pamela Marie Cross, all of Altoona, PA. They are facing a variety of charges, including retail theft, receipt of stolen property, money laundering, criminal use of a communications facility, and conspiracy to deal in the proceeds of illegal activity.
The thieves targeted a variety of retail businesses, including Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Kaufmann’s, Dunham’s Sporting Goods, Radio Shack and Sears, according to the grand jury indictment. At Dunham’s alone, the theft loss allegedly totaled as much as $139,000 per year, the indictment said.
Individuals unwittingly purchasing the items on eBay often used checks or PayPal, according to the indictment. PayPal payments totaling $220,000 were directed to bank accounts opened or controlled by the defendants, the grand jury charged.
The defendants also allegedly set up 17 eBay accounts to force the prices higher on items-so-called ghost bidding, according to the indictment. EBay suspended those accounts.
EBay supplied information on the accounts after being approached by the attorney general’s office, an eBay spokeswoman says. EBay asks people who see stolen property on the site to file a police report and have law enforcement contact eBay.
“Once there’s an official police report and law enforcement is involved, what we’re able to do is then go back and immediately pull any related reported listings and gather information and provide that to law enforcement,” she says.
Although most transactions on eBay are legitimate, eBay takes the problem of stolen goods sold on its site very seriously, and has a team dedicated to the safety and security of its marketplace, the spokeswoman says.
“What we’ve been told oftentimes by law enforcement is that eBay is one of the worst places criminals could go to try to sell stolen goods, because in order to list something on our site, you have to give us information for a financial account-credit card or checking account information-a physical address, a name, phone number and e-mail contact information,” she says.