Duluth Police are warning online shoppers to be careful following an investigation of an Internet computer scam involving car sales. A Duluth man, described by Det. Fran Foster as the “middle man” in the complex scheme, has been arrested and charged with three counts of theft by deception.
John Kennedy Muntean, 48, was picked up by Gwinnett County Sheriff’s deputies at his Duluth home Jan. 22 and booked into the Gwinnett County Jail at 10:15 p.m. He was released on bond at 9:57 p.m. Jan. 23.
The Duluth Police Department began its investigation after it was contacted by Gary Christy, a victim from Westerville, OH, by telephone in late December concerning a suspected fraud involving his attempted purchase of a vehicle on a website he believed to be eBay.
The investigation subsequently revealed several victims from different cities in the United States. The loss exceeds $110,000,” Det. Foster said. Different vehicles were used in the fraudulent scheme.
“Muntean is the middle man moving the money, not the person running the Internet portion of the scam. That person appears to be in Hungary, Germany. Muntean was moving the money through American bank accounts, then sending a cut of the cash via Western Union to Germany,” she said.
Muntean was arrested after returning to Duluth from turning himself in to police in Pine View, NC, and posting bond on an outstanding warrant there. He was reportedly planning to turn himself in to authorities in Duluth also.
Christy told a Duluth Police officer by telephone Dec. 27 that he saw a Craig’s List posting for a 1951 Chevrolet truck he was interesting in buying and contacted the seller to obtain more information. The seller, who identified himself as a “Martin Moore,” corresponded back and forth with Christy and sent him an email directing him where to go to a live chat site on eBay for a “second chance” offer.
Christy followed the link and sent a $7,500 wire transfer to a bank in Duluth to pay for the truck, according to the police incident report filed by the officer. Shortly afterwards, Christy was contacted through the same link for the “chat” and informed that the wire transfer did not go through and he would receive a refund. Christy was then contacted and told the seller would accept $6,500 for the vehicle, but the money would need to be wired to another bank in Duluth.
When Christy did not get a refund, he became suspicious and contacted the bank where he had wired the $7,500. He confirmed that the bank had received the funds and also that this amount had been deducted from his own bank account. He contacted other banks and the police department in Westerville, which advised him to contact the Duluth PD. Christy informed the Duluth police officer that a person using the name “John Muntean” from Duluth had requested the second fund transfer.
Det. Foster provided details on how the scheme worked in an email:
“The victim would be scanning eBay looking for different vehicles that are for sale. The suspect would place a post of a vehicle on eBay that was copied from an actual Craig's List posting. When the victim inquired about the suspect’s car, the suspect would not respond right away. The suspect would email his target with a link to the vehicle they were inquiring about.
“Once the target clicked on the hyperlink to the supposed eBay site, they were actually linking into the suspect’s computer. The suspect’s site mirrored (looked like) the eBay website. The victim would be convinced that the car was a good deal with free shipping. Once the victim agreed to buy the car, they (the victim) was instructed to enter a live chat site that also had the appearance of an official eBay site.
“The victim would be instructed to wire transfer the funds to a third party person who is assigned to hold the funds. It appears [like] the third party person works for eBay. Once the funds have been sent, in this case to John Muntean, the car appeared to be shipped.
“A few days would pass, the car never showed, so the victim would go back to the live chat link and ask about the car. The victim would be told that the account they wired the funds to was frozen by eBay, because fraud was detected. The victim was instructed to send the third party another payment at a different bank and to expect a refund on the first wire [payment].
Some victims sent double payments; some only sent the one payment (either way the car never came). On the day the car was to be delivered, the victim’s computer would crash. The suspect had placed a virus in the victim’s computer with a date to infect the computer. The victim’s computer would crash, so they could not contact the same chat site, and it prevents law enforcement from doing a forensic recovery of the IP address and evidence.”
The victim was not on the actual eBay site after responding to the email from the suspect, according to Foster. She noted that eBay does not allow wire transfer payments and does not use third party mediators or live chats.
Don Samuel, attorney for Muntean, said that his client had been “manipulated by other people” into becoming involved in the operation. Muntean is cooperating with the investigation by providing information and financial records, Samuel said.