I’ve written a few things about scams and fencing stolen merchandise on auction sites. Recently, the GAO discovered that items stolen from the military are for sale on eBay and Craigslist.

Even more interesting were the results of narrowly focused hearings (my opinion) on this matter in Washington, which can be seen at the bottom of this post. The reason I believe they were “narrowly focused” is because there is no shortage of fraud, phishing and financial misdeeds on auction sites.

Of course, there is also no shortage of ordinary citizens and businesses that have been taken to the cleaners on an auction site. Stolen government items are only a small part of the overall problem.

From the GAO report:

GAO found numerous defense-related items for sale to the highest bidder on eBay and Craigslist. A review of policies and procedures for these Web sites determined that there are few safeguards to prevent the sale of sensitive and stolen defense-related items using the sites. During the period of investigation, GAO undercover investigators purchased a dozen sensitive items on eBay and Craigslist to demonstrate how easy it was to obtain them. Many of these items were stolen from the U.S. military. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), it considers the sensitive items GAO purchased to be on the U.S. Munitions List, meaning that there are restrictions on their overseas sales. However, if investigators had been members of the general public, there is a risk that they could have illegally resold these items to an international broker or transferred them overseas.

Apparently, body armor, MRE (meals ready to eat), uniforms, night vision goggles, NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical) equipment and even F-14 components were some of the items purchased on eBay and Craiglist by undercover investigators.

The obvious concern would be terrorists, or other not very friendly people getting their hands on some of this stuff.

Given the organized effort on a lot of auction sites to fence stolen merchandise via some pretty sophisticated methods, it’s not surprising that the GAO found military equipment for sale on the sites. Many have speculated that these sites are used as a means of fencing the proceeds of what is known as organized retail crime. Of course, less organized criminals obviously sell their goods on auction sites, also.

Organized retail crime obtains their goods by a variety of methods from common theft to using stolen financial instruments. A lot of stolen financial instruments are used to purchase items on auction sites and e-commerce sites. Of course, they are used in more traditional store settings for the same purpose, also.

On eBay, account credentials and payment accounts (PayPal) are phished all the time, enabling an additional layer of anonymity to the schemes. In fact, over the years, many experts have stated that eBay and PayPal are the two most phished brands out there.

One thing not mentioned in the report is that people don’t always get what was advertised on these sites. It isn’t inconceivable that a complete fighter jet might be put up for sale, paid for and in the end a toy, or “nothing at all” is received by the buyer.

Trust me, this wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened on an auction site.

A lot of counterfeit (knock-off) merchandise is sold on the sites, advertised as the “real thing,” also.

Our leaders in Congress reacted by calling Jim Buckmaster (Craigslist) and Tod Cohen (eBay) in to speak with them on the matter.

Anne Broache (CNet) writes:

By calling Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster and eBay government relations chief Tod Cohen to Washington for the hearing, the subcommittee seemed to be preparing to place those executives in the hot seat. But the tone of that questioning was actually quite cordial. At the end of the panel, Tierney even praised the companies for “trying very hard” to keep sensitive military goods off their sites and acknowledged the rules of the road aren’t the most clear.

Based on her article, which reports that Buckmaster and Cohen were treated with “kid gloves” during the session, my prediction is that little is going to be done to regulate the sale of stolen goods on auction sites as a result of this.

Meanwhile, everyone running for office is saying they will be the one doing something about the problem of special interests in Washington.

On a closing note, I want to commend the GAO for their efforts to expose a problem. I’m just saying it’s a shame that no one listened to what they were saying, very carefully.

HTML version of the GAO report, here.

PDF version, here.

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