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'How a mule made an ass of me'

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Liddy's lost liberty

After Yvonne Liddy, for instance, recently lost $8,650 in a sham listing for a 2005 Jeep Liberty, she spent hours tracking down the Alhambra, California-based woman she paid through a bank-to-bank transfer. After finally locating a cell phone number for the mule, Liddy called and confronted her.

"She started freaking out and gave me everything," Liddy said of the mule. "She gave me the password to her email so I could take whatever I wanted."

The emails, combined with Liddy's account of her conversations with the mule, give plenty of details about how the scheme worked. The mule, a newly married 21-year-old, had payments deposited directly into a Washington Mutual Bank account, which she kept in her maiden name. The mule was then instructed to send payments through Western Union to individuals in Greece.

Payments were to be broken up into chunks no larger than $3,000, to get around certain Western Union restrictions. Sometimes she had to travel to three separate Western Union locations and make payments at each one, according to the emails, which were reviewed by The Register.

Can't touch this

The emails suggest she helped funnel $34,450 between September 27 and October 12 from four separate individuals, one of them being Liddy, though it's unclear if all four transactions went through as described in the messages.

The emails gave the mule one of two options for being paid: either deduct 6 percent of the funds immediately or wire the total amount and receive a check for 10 percent later. However, the emails indicate that the mule had trouble getting her bosses to pay as promised.

"It would appear there was a slight delay to the first check, and it would be fair to compensate you," someone going by the name of Johen wrote in one message before going on to promise a check would be forthcoming. "That's the best I can do right now," Johen continued. "You've always responded promptly to my requests and I appreciate that."

Liddy's pursuit, while providing a rare glimpse into the world of online graft, has done little to help her recover the money she lost. She considered taking the mule to small claims court, but is reluctant to spend money traveling from Ohio.

"I'm at a standstill, I guess," she said. "I called a couple lawyers and no one even wanted to touch the case."

'It's eating me alive'

Hartman, the eBay buyer who got his cashiers check back, said its crucial for victims of fraud on eBay to take swift action because site representatives are of little help.

"You cannot count on eBay to straighten it out for you," he said. "If you want your money back, they're just not going to do anything to assist you."

The flip-side of that coin, however, is being powerless to pursue a person who played a key role in the theft of thousands of dollars, says Chuck Pflugmacher, an Illinois resident who lost $17,900 in a recent fraudulent eBay auction for a 2005 Toyota Tacoma.

"It's eating me alive," said Pflugmacher, who said he spent hours trying to unsuccessfully locate the Las Vegas-based mule. "It's frustrating not being able to contact her personally. I try not to stew over it because it's not going to do me any good." ®

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