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Consumer Alert: Internet auctions and the great train robbery

Everyone loves to find a bargain and the world of Internet auction sites makes it even easier. However, serious collectors need to proceed with caution. Some thieves have a one-track mind.

Model train collecting is a multi-million dollar business in the U.S. and that makes it a target for scam artists.

"He saw a way to make a quick buck off of four victims and rip them off and that is exactly what he did," said Christopher White, a U.S. Postal Inspector.

An online auction site is where this scam began. Postal inspectors say they can be a haven for thieves looking to take you for a ride.

In this case, Nicholas Maselli posted expensive antique model trains that were offered for a price too good to pass up.

"One of the victims initially didn't receive his package at all, when he did receive the package, which was this box, he immediately knew as a collector this stuff had no value," said White.

What the suspect called antiques were actually used trains worth just five or ten dollars.

The collector called postal inspectors, who were able to track down the money order he used to pay for the trains. That paper trail led right to the suspect.

"In this particular case, one of the victims reported it very early on, we were able to minimize the losses to 10-thousand dollars for all four victims," said White.

If you use online auction sites, inspectors suggest dealing with local buyers and sellers if you can.

If that is not possible, always pay with a "trackable" form of payment such as a credit card or money order.

Nicholas Maselli plead guilty to theft in this case and was sentenced to more than a year in prison and was ordered to pay more than $7,000 in restitution.

If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, including online auctions, you can file a complaint on the government website at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.


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