Sunday, 15 January 2012

Cybervigilism Helps Crack Online Fraud Case

With the dramatic rise of online fraud cases over the past several years, ecommerce sites and law enforcement agencies are finding themselves playing "catch-up" in an effort to stop the increasingly clever scams of Internet con men. Frustrated by the apparently widening gap between good guys and bad guys, many victims are banding together to share information to help bring Cybercriminals to justice.
Some term these groups "Vigilantes." But, somewhere between "vigilante" and online fraud "victim" is a phenomenon that perhaps needs its own term: Cybervigilism. Being vigilant is to be watchful. When it comes on online fraud, here's one more case that proves that Cybervigilism is alive and well.
The "Shaes"
Mark and Nancy Shae offered Web-site design services and belonged to an online community of Adult Webmasters in 2002. After participating in discussion forums for 5 months, Nancy revealed in October that her husband was sick with cancer.
When Nancy Shae later wrote to fellow Webmasters in an online forum that her husband had died from the disease, members of the community reached out a helping hand. Some members donated services, while others sent Nancy money. Little did they know that the woman they thought was Nancy Shae was really Nancy Dreksler, half of a husband-and-wife team wanted for fraud by officials in Nevada and Arizona, according to authorities.
But while many members pitched in to help their colleague, one member was skeptical.
Initially, "Blaze" (his online handle) received angry responses when he questioned the truth of Nancy's claims. However, a little research uncovered some glaring inconsistencies in Nancy's story. Determined to know the truth, Blaze hired a private investigator to visit the Shaes' home in Mesa, Arizona.
"It was too late. We had apparently missed them by hours," Blaze said. "But we kept our eyes out for them and saw their next scam on eBay. We knew it was just a matter of time before they tried to take the Webmaster community again."
The "Myers"
While Blaze was correct in thinking the Shaes were serial offenders, he was unaware of another online community scammed by the couple 10 months earlier. Authorities believe that the Drekslers defrauded members of a site set up for marine and reef aquarium hobbyists in January 2002. They believe the Drekslers used the alias Johanna Myers to sell aquarium equipment on eBay and to members. The User ID they used on eBay had been registered in October 2001, and negative feedback began rolling in on the account on January 12, 2002. eBay ultimately suspended the account, but the Drekslers popped up again on eBay.
The "Boselis"
In February 2003, members of an online-auction chat board noticed suspicious activity on an eBay account "mylittle1s." The User ID belonged to "Renee Boseli," an alias for Michael and Nancy Dreksler. One victim alerted Arizona law enforcement officials in March, and Detective Bruce Cornish of the Coconino County Sheriff's Dept. contacted eBay. On March 5, eBay suspended mylittle1s, but it was too late: Det. Cornish found the Drekslers' residence abandoned, with a post office box full of cashier's checks and money orders made out to Renee Boseli.
AuctionBytes' coverage of the mylittle1s case caught the attention of Rachel Konrad, a reporter with the Associated Press. Blaze and his colleagues read Konrad's AP article on on March 26, and saw similarities between the Drekslers and Mark and Nancy Shae. They were a husband and wife team, the wife was named Nancy, and the eBay ID mylittle1s was a variation of a password used on the Webmaster community bulletin boards. But the CNN article reported the Drekslers had fled their Munds Park, Arizona residence.
Comments: I believe that with the information that is available on the Internet and the ability to connect to each other instantly is just naturally going to lead to people working together to find people that wronged them. However I wouldn't necessarily go as far as calling it vigilantism. There is a distinct difference between someone that tracks down another person and presents the information to the law enforcement, compared to someone who tracks down another person and proceeds to "enforce" law on them."

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