Last week, Romanian law enforcement executed 117 searches targeting more than 100 individuals allegedly involved in the fraudulent scheme, which involved fake sales of merchandise through the Internet, according to the FBI.
According to U.S. court documents, in many of the cases conspirators located in Romania would post items for sale, such as cars, motorcycles, and boats, on Internet auction and online websites. They would instruct victims located in the United States and elsewhere who wanted to buy those items to wire transfer the purchase money to a fictitious name they claimed to be an employee of an escrow company.
Once the victim wired the funds, the co-conspirators in Romania would text information about the wire transfer to co-conspirators in the United States -- known as "arrows" -- to enable them to retrieve the wired funds, the FBI says. They would also provide the arrows with instructions as to where to send the funds after retrieval.
The arrows in the United States would go to money transmitter service counters, such as Western Union or MoneyGram International; provide false documents, including passports and driver's licenses in the name of the recipient of the wire transfer; and obtain the funds. They would subsequently wire the funds overseas, typically to individuals in Romania, minus a percentage kept for their commissions.
In some cases, co-conspirators in Romania also directed arrows to provide bank accounts in the United States where larger amounts of funds could be wired by victims of the fraud. The victims would not receive the items they believed they were purchasing.
According to court documents, detectives observed two of the suspects enter a Walmart store, where they presented a MoneyGram voucher and false identifications to a store clerk. They received $2,890 through Western Union and Money Gram from a victim in another state who had wired the money in response to an Internet advertisement for merchandise, which the victim never received. The two suspects were later arrested, and a search of their room produced a large amount of U.S. currency, computers, printers, plastic for manufacturing false identifications, an exacto knife, multiple mobile phones, and false identifications.
The Internet fraud scheme has resulted in an estimated loss of more than $10 million from victims, including those in the United States, the FBI says. The full loss amount and identification of additional victims is ongoing.
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