Jailed: fraudsters who stole £300,000 from eBay users

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The Independent Online

Three people from east London were sentenced to a total of eight and-a-half years after conning almost £300,000 from eBay customers around the world.

Nicolae Cretanu, 30, his wife Adriana, 23, and George Titar, 26, all Romanians, swindled thousands of victims into paying for everything from non-existent cars to concert tickets and binoculars.

They used the money to buy a flat in Forest Gate and a BMW in Britain's biggest fraud of its kind, which lasted two years.

The Cretanus worked for crime bosses in Romania, who offered fictitious goods on the internet auction site. Unsuspecting victims who bid for the goods were contacted by e-mail and told that they had been outbid for their desired item.

They were then offered a "second chance" to obtain a similar or identical item, and told that if they were interested they should wire the money to Britain. But the bidders never received the goods they had paid for.

Instead, the Cretanus, who used a variety of aliases, collected the cash, took their share and then sent the rest back to their accomplices in Romania.

The racket was broken up after suspicious officials from the money transfer company Western Union contacted the police.

Detectives described it as a "sophisticated" fraud. Derek Zeitlin, for the prosecution, said: "There are approximately 3,000 victims worldwide with the largest proportion, 60 per cent, in the US." Moreover, he warned: "This fraud is continuing to this day. The arrests have not brought this fraud to its conclusion."

The Cretanus collected the cash using 12 aliases and hired George Titar, a Romanian illegal immigrant, to pick it up from Western Union counters in east London. Fingerprints found on identification documents kept by the transfer agency led to Nicolae Cretanu, who had been arrested in March 2004 in possession of a false Belgian passport. Titar was later caught with three passports.

A spokesperson for eBay said: "These transactions did not take place on eBay and as soon as we were made aware of them we took action. By working with the police we helped ensure the prosecutions were successful. We are extremely sorry that anyone has suffered through their association with eBay. If anyone is worried that fraud has been committed they should report it to the police."

The Cretanus, of Forest Gate and Titar, of Stratford, both east London, were all convicted of conspiracy to obtain property by deception and money laundering between 1 July 2003 and 31 May this year at an earlier hearing.

The trio, who were all illegal immigrants, were sentenced yesterday at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court. Nicolae Cretanu was jailed for three-and-a-half years while his wife Adriana Cretanu, 23, and their accomplice Titar, 26, were each given 30 months.

Judge Duncan Matheson QC said he would be recommending to the Home Secretary that all three be deported upon their release.

Which?, an organisation that fights for consumers' rights, urged people to keep their wits about them when buying online. Lisa Barber, senior researcher at Which?, said: "If you do use an online auction site only buy from sellers that have a very good feedback rating, use the online payment system on the site and don't spend too much. Use your common sense. If it sounds too good to be true it often is."