A man and woman organized a scheme posting non-existent vehicles for sale on many marketplace and auction websites scamming U.S. car buyers out of over $4 million while running the scheme for nearly three years overseas.
Corneliu Weikum, a Romanian man living in Germany, and Yulia Mishina-Heffron of Russia plead guilty to bank fraud, wire fraud and cash smuggling charges on September 20. Weikum and Mishina-Heffron advertised vehicles for sale on eBay Motors, AutoTrader, Yahoo Autos, Craigslist and other websites from 2007 to 2010, but had no intention of actually selling a car. The fraudsters instead coerced victims into sending wire transfers to pay for deposits on the vehicles that didn’t exist as they opened up U.S. accounts to receive the funds or had money mules to receive, withdraw and smuggle the cash.
It is never a good idea to directly wire money to someone you don’t really know for an online transaction as there is no way to get this money back, and although most marketplaces and auction sites warn against sellers that request this, many consumers still fall victim to this tactic. The fraudsters behind the scheme recruited money mules and established U.S. bank accounts as international wire transfers receive for scrutiny from the banks and would raise red flags with the victim. But where the fraudsters hit a snag with their scheme was getting the money out of the United States. In 2009 more than $1 million was confiscated from Weikum’s luggage as he tried to depart from a Las Vegas Airport, and in 2010 Mishina-Heffron was caught attempting to hide $20,000 hidden in speakers being shipped to Germany. These two fraudsters were able to organize an efficient scheme to steal $4 million from U.S. car buyers in less than three years, but now must forfeit $1.2 million in cash and pay further restitution to the victims.
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