[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]

Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 24, 2009

Knox man charged in international fraud scheme,
nets four others on weapons and cruelty counts

By Zach Simeone

KNOX — A Knox man was arrested last week for allegedly carrying out an international scheme involving over $100,000 worth of Internet theft, with victims in Germany, Canada, and seventeen of the United States. The suspect, Jeffrey Robert, has since been brought up on additional charges, along with four others, for torturing and blowing up a turtle with pipe bombs.

Robert, 25, has been charged with first-degree scheming to defraud and second-degree grand larceny, both felonies.

While searching Robert’s home during an investigation of these charges, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department found a video recording of him, his brother, and three of their friends torturing and exploding a snapping turtle. In the video were Jeffrey Robert; Michael Robert, 22; Tyson Pincher, 26; James Pincher, 21; and Seth Pincher, 17 — all of Knox. They were all brought up on charges of third-degree possession of weapon, a felony, and animal cruelty, a misdemeanor.

Police also found pipe bombs, a large quantity of gunpowder, chloroform, and chemicals used to make nitroglycerin in the house. Undersheriff Craig Apple declined to name the specific chemicals found in the house, “in case there are some curious minds out there,” he said.

Robert had been offering high-performance engines, modified automotive wiring harnesses, and modified automotive computer units for sale or repair on eBay and other sites, according to a press release from the sheriff’s department. He used business names like East Cost Engines, Muscle Sports and Imports, Muscle Sports and Import-Com, Auto Computer Tech.com, and Turn Key Engines, as well as his real name, the release said.

“Customers either purchased products from Robert or shipped items to Robert to be modified for a fee,” the release went on. “Robert then cashed his customers’ checks or withdrew their payments from his PayPal accounts, but did not ship the purchased items or perform the agreed modifications to the items he received. The investigation revealed he has been operating this scam for several years, and involves hundreds of victims.”

PayPal is a service, used for many eBay purchases, that allows its users to send money via e-mail.

The sheriff’s department was made aware of the cyber crimes through tips from Internet and phone sources, the release said.

They were arraigned in Knox before Judge Jean Gagnon, and remanded to the Albany County jail, with bail for all five set at $25,000, adding to the $50,000 bail set for Jeffrey Robert’s Internet fraud. The investigation is ongoing.

Safety on eBay?

Jack Christin Jr., Associate General Council for eBay’s Government Relations Team, had a few tips for eBay users looking to secure their online shopping experience, but eBay would not comment on the ongoing Robert investigation.

The best strategy, Christin said, is to check a user’s feedback section, which displays user-provided testimonies describing their transactions with that particular user. Comments from buyers and sellers are usually included.

Christin also briefly described the systems eBay has in place for monitoring its users to help fight cyber crimes.

“We have a number of different internal tools and monitoring devices that look at both seller and buyer behavior on eBay to identify any sort of suspicious behavior, so, we can intervene if we think a person is engaging in what we consider harmful behavior, step in, and remove them from eBay and refer them to law enforcement,” Christin said. “So, basically, when you use eBay, we’re watching you,” he laughed.

Christin said he could not go into detail on how these tools and devices work, due to confidentiality.

The most common and most basic kind of Internet fraud is a seller’s failure to deliver an item for which a buyer has paid. “It’s not a very sophisticated kind of fraud, but it’s something that will not be tolerated on eBay” said Christin.

But in the event of any cyber crime, eBay interacts with local law enforcement in two ways: Reactively, if a law enforcement agency approaches eBay and requests its records for an investigation, or proactively.

“Based on our tools, if someone is using eBay to commit crimes, we’re not going to wait for law enforcement to come to us,” Christin said. “We’re going to suspend that seller and, if we believe criminal activity is taking place, we’ll go to the appropriate law enforcement agency ourselves and make our case.”

Jeffrey Robert was a reactive case, Christin said.

“Like offline crimes, online criminal activity is sometimes sophisticated, and sometimes not very sophisticated,” Christin said, “and, obviously, online fraud is not an eBay problem, it’s not a PayPal problem — it’s an e-commerce problem, and it affects many platforms.”

[Return to Home Page]