Seeking advice or help on how to track down an internet thief.
October 8, 2011 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Advice or help on how to track down an internet thief?

I'm hoping I can get some advice from folks here about how to track down a person who stole $500 from my partner via an online transaction. Payment for the purchase was made via PayPal ACH transfer (a "Personal" type payment- not a good idea, but my partner didn't know better). It is more than a week later since the payment and the money is gone, and my partner still doesn't have the product. We've contacted Paypal, my partner's bank, the police in our city and the suspected city of the seller, and have sent multiple emails to the seller- no love. Meanwhile we've made a report to the FBI's IC3 web site that supposedly deals with internet crime & fraud. We think we've been able to track down where this person lives and we suspect this person has been visiting our web sites based on tracing the IP addresses of the visits. Is there anything we can do to get the money back? Local law enforcement doesn't seem interested or can't help.

We have several emails from this person's account pointing to originating IP addresses in Aliso Viejo, CA- near Laguna Beach. Some of the emails were sent via a webmail connection, and some were sent via a Blackberry on the Blackberry network- traced to the same area. Meanwhile we've found this person's profile (supposedly) on several web sites: LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. along with a business listed in their name at an address in a residential apartment complex in Aliso Viejo, CA. The person is no longer responding to emails. Now that LinkedIn shows you who's viewing your profile, we suspect that after we viewed this person's profile they were tipped off and now we have visits to both of our web sites with IP addresses that originate within a very close distance of Aliso Viejo. This person has also continued to log in to the web site where the classified ad was posted- we can see their activity attached to their profile. It's all too coincidental whether or not this person is who they say they are.

It's frustrating that we have all of this tracking data in the form of email IP addresses, Blackberry messages pointing to a specific device, account activity, etc. and we can't get law enforcement to help. It's my partner's fault for making a payment that is effectively as good as cash (Paypal personal payment, ACH transfer), but is there nothing else we can do to get my partner's money back from this lowlife?
posted by miscdebris to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
So reading through this: your partner paid for purchase using PayPal but hasn't received the merchandise yet after a week of waiting? The seller hasn't responded to your emails and thus is a thief rolling around Orange County with his Blackberry or sitting his apartment enjoying Cox High Speed Internet? Maybe your correspondence is in his junk mail filter? Maybe he's got other stuff on his mind. Maybe he's an asshole that will get back to you when he feels like it.

What did the seller say before he stopped communicating? Even though the money is gone from your partner's account, PayPal has started automatically placing holds on funds so it may not necessarily mean he "stole" your money and that is actually being held by PayPal. The seller may be waiting for the hold to be removed before he sends the product, he may have sent it and it is delayed. He may be guilty of being a poor communicator and doesn't want to deal with your partner right now -- especially if your partner jumped straight from where's my product I paid for to saying he's a thief. Or he could be a nefarious lowlife thief.

You've filed a dispute with eBay? You've called them? That is your real first point of recourse if the the seller is non responsive. It won't happen overnight but they will claw back the funds from the seller's account if he doesn't provide proof he shipped the product to their satisfaction. If the classified ad system where the ad was placed has a reputation rating like eBay, or if you can lodge a complaint to them to freeze his account until this is resolved, you could try that.

I hate to break this to you but local law enforcement in California is stretched very thin and even after your internet detective work, they have bigger cases to deal with then your partner's case of the missing $500. If this person has stolen $500 from thousands of people, then yeah, they'll get on it. But as far was anyone knows this is a single transaction that went sideways and well that sadly happens all the time.
posted by birdherder at 12:01 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

1) This wasn't through Ebay. We don't have a phone number for this person.

2) There were several email exchanges with this person before payment was sent. Last reply received was, "Got your payment, sending your product today, I'll send a tracking number." That was over 10 days ago. They live less than 300 miles away.

3) Since then my partner sent 3 emails to confirm shipment and to request a tracking number. No replies.

4) We're not naive- of course this happens all the time. Of course there could be extenuating circumstances or things may not be what they seem. Of course law enforcement is overextended. That's why we're posting here- because we're curious if there's anything else we can do. In the end it's not likely there's anything we can do- but it's worth it to us to put the question to folks here. In the end it's likely my partner was scammed - life sucks sometimes - it's not the end of the world. But we're gonna try anyway...
posted by miscdebris at 12:17 PM on October 8, 2011

And the resolution process with PayPal? What does the dispute status say on the PayPal webpage? Did your partner escalate it to a claim yet? Have you talked to a human at PayPal? This is where you should be concentrating your efforts.

I am aware your partner didn't use eBay, but suggested you complain or submit negative feedback to that classified ad site if they have such features.

Life does suck sometimes, but until you get something from PayPal saying the case is closed and there's no evidence of fraud you still might get the money or the merchandise.
posted by birdherder at 12:33 PM on October 8, 2011

Probably a dumb question but have you tried putting the e-mail address in all the major search engines? Also try Intelius ($$). If that person has ever used that address for banking, magazines, newsletters, etc, etc, there's a good chance the info has been resold to one of these brokers. I would bet donuts to dollars that Cox has sold it off anyway. Then you can move on to small claims (and yeah, a PD probably wouldn't bother or would treat this as a civil matter).

Your ability to get private info directly from places like Cox and Craigslist (?) as an individual is very, very limited and would almost certainly require the involvement of an attorney. They can get you what you want but that's probably going to run well over $500.

If there's no leads on any of that, I'm wondering of Lexis-Nexis has an e-mail lookup database. If so it would probably be better than anything publically available. but you would need the involvement of an attorney or some other user (maybe a MeFite with access?).

Good luck.
posted by crapmatic at 12:37 PM on October 8, 2011

Did you do a public records search via Lexis/Nexis or a PI? (No email look-up, but phone #s are listed, usually.)
posted by Ideefixe at 12:54 PM on October 8, 2011

So if I'm reading this right, it sounds like you know the person's name, hometown, and business address already. Can't you look up a phone number using this information? Once you get them on the phone, you may find that there is some explanation for why the product didn't arrive yet - 10 days is long enough to be annoyed it hasn't come yet, but not long enough that I would assume they are never going to follow through. Some people are chronically late with stuff and don't seem to understand that other people are on a different schedule. I have found that these people tend to ignore their postal mail/emails because they are probably full of tons of other messages about the other things in their lives that they're putting off addressing. I find it difficult to believe this person would not either give you the product or a refund if you start bugging them at home and work on the phone.

If you cannot reach them by phone or e-mail, there are other options to make yourself annoying enough that they will eventually send the item. For example you could get a third party to request to friend them on Facebook, and then they'll probably be foolish enough to accept the request even without knowing the person and you might get access to a bunch of other personal information about them. If it came down to it, even though $500 isn't a huge sum, it's a matter of principle and I would not be above driving on out to this town to confront the person at their place of work (not alone, of course, and after telling the police you were doing this). From your description this sounds pretty unlikely to be an actual criminal, because if it were, they wouldn't have used their real name.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:17 PM on October 8, 2011

Create a document outlining the facts.
Purchased X item (attached is a printout of the transaction)
Transferred X amount of money. (attached is a photocopy of the bank statement)
IP address of recipient
Make it detailed but factual only, and possibly with footnotes to explain how you know the info is valid.

Go back to your local police. Ask to meet with the detective or other officer who handles electronic crime.

Go to the police in the criminal's town. repeat. One of the towns should have at least 1 officer who understands Internet crimes.

You've done the investigating, and they should be able to act on the information. Many people besiege the police with reported e-crimes; This person sold me a car, and it's a piece of junk, etc. that may not be crimes, may not be possible to investigate, are too small to get much attention, etc. A $500 ripoff with documentation, and possible documentation of similar crimes, should get results.
posted by theora55 at 1:45 PM on October 8, 2011

I do e-comm in real life. You are not going to get ahead financially by taking this on to the extent of driving down there. If the person is basically noncriminal, just a poor business person, your best bet is via PayPal and/or any web site you may have used to facilitate the transaction. People who are very poor business people and/or criminals have a way of staying ahead of honest people who are trying to get their own back.

$500 is a lot of money, but you're rapidly going to spend more than that chasing this. Consider it $500 worth of experience in how to do business on the internet.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:21 PM on October 8, 2011

If you talk to Paypal, and explain that you were tricked into using personal payment, they might be able to refund you. My guess is that it's at the customer service rep's discretion, as I have heard of paypal rules being bent before. I have not bent this particular one myself, but I have a fair amount of experience with Paypal, and it's interesting how one time things will go one way, and the next time with a different rep they will go totally differently.
posted by Slinga at 8:04 PM on October 8, 2011

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