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Grifter jailed for Mac auction fraud

350 victims lost $880,000

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A conniving conwoman who ripped off an estimated $880,000 from almost 350 victims through online auction fraud was sent to jail for four years and nine months this week.

Teresa Smith, 25, of Massachusetts, USA, posed as legitimate businesswoman selling Apple computers on auction sites such as eBay for 18 months before she was rumbled.

Only a handful of the people who paid for machines ordered from her ever received goods, The Hartford Courant reports.

The Hartford Courant explains the numerous rouses Smith (AKA Teresa Iaconi) used to stay one step ahead of the people she was ripping off.

When customers complained, Smith offered a variety of false excuses, blaming shipping delays, problems with her computer supplier and unreliable employees, prosecutors said.

By the time the fraud was exposed, they said, the money was gone, used by Smith for living expenses and to finance the start-up of her own advertising business, which ultimately failed.

Prosecutors said Smith kept the scheme going by using multiple eBay accounts, adopting a new online identity each time the auction house would receive complaints and suspend her account.

In this way, Smith was able to keep the scam going from April 2001 until October 2002 when the authorities caught up with her. The Hartford Courant reckons the case represents the "biggest Internet auction fraud ever". Are they sure?

Even allowing for the fact Smith was a plausible conwoman, who set up Web sites to lull victims into a false sense of security, before disappearing when victims came looking for refunds, serious questions should be asked about why it took the authorities so long to track her down.

This week Smith was sentenced to four years and nine months stretch in prison, to be followed by three years' probation.

Smith was also ordered to pay $857,776 in restitution to her victims, though few expect those fleeced by the conwoman will ever be reimbursed. ®

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