Detectives usually do not write emails to people along the lines of “Has anyone stolen from you on the internet?” However, this time they did and it paid off.
Their emails have helped to reveal the biggest fraudster that has ever put advertisements in second-hand goods e-shops and online auctions. He has robbed hundreds of people of over CZK 3 million.
The case is exceptional not only due to the damage worth millions of crowns, but also in the way politicians hunted down the fraudster: they had to reveal that there was only one person behind ads posted under various names. After that they addressed people via email to ask them whether they were willing to give evidence against the fraudster. There was namely no other way they could reach them.
There has been an increase in the number of similar crimes on the Czech internet and experts say that these crimes will become even more sophisticated. HN reported earlier on Czechs who had been tricked by advertisements offering car sales and online companies offering marvellous capital appreciation.
Half a million for three years
The man was offering computer components, mobile phones and similar things on the internet. Later he would either send his customer a thing that did not work or he sent nothing at all. He was constantly changing emails and names under which he would post his offers.
It was important for the detectives to prove that there was one person behind hundreds of frauds, because while one fictitious transaction may be only an offence, transactions worth millions represent a crime with a possible punishment of up to 12 years. “The majority of people lose their money, but they dismiss it as insignificant and do not report it. But when all the sums are counted up, the overall damage may be large,” said Karel Kuchařík, head of the police team that focuses on computer crimes and has been dealing with the case. “The perpetrators know very well that damage up to CZK 5,000 is only an offence for which they won’t be taken to court,” Kuchařík said.
Investigators later found out that online frauds represented a full-time job for the man. He earned as much as CZK 50,000 per month. The police are still reticent on the details of the case – including the man’s place of residence and websites where he put his advertisements. But what is for sure is that he will face several years in prison. If the court found him guilty of large damage, he could be imprisoned for as much as 12 years.
A similar case, though with smaller extent of damage, was recently punished with a relatively strict sentence. A man from the Mladá Boleslav area who had lured over CZK 500,000 from various people was in June sentenced to three years in prison.
Also portal operators say that large sums are involved in both frauds. “Usually, damage reaches thousands or several dozens of thousands at maximum, said Lenka Hanušová from Aukro auction house, where more than 5 million things worth CZK 2.5 billion were sold last year.
Crime is moving to web
Fraudsters use many tricks on the internet in order to get money from people. In 2007, for example, Czechs were tricked by offers of used cars on respected German websites.
But it was a trap: there were no cars for sale and the deposit that people paid ended up on anonymous bank accounts somewhere on the other side of the world. On the announcement of HN, Ostrava police also launched investigations of a strange story around the website called Dámevámpeníze.cz (we will give you money). A man called Pavel Slováček was offering loans on the internet, but people first had to buy a special member card – and then earn money by finding other members. It resembled a typical pyramid scheme, moreover, Slováček closed down his activities overnight. “It’s obvious: crime is moving to cyberspace,” said an expert on computer crime, lawyer Radim Polčák from the Masaryk University.