Practice staffer unknowingly buys hot items off eBay

Investigation ensues after stolen IV pump breaks

Published: March 24, 2009
By Timothy Kirn

When Ginny Weimer bought two IV pumps on eBay, one for about $120 and another for $140, she thought she was getting a steal. Little did she know how true that was ( Message Boards Link ).

The pumps worked fine for a while and that was great, said Weimer, a veterinary technician who works for a practice in Whitewater, Wisc. But then one of the units began to smoke, and it wasn’t even plugged into an outlet. 

So Weimer called the manufacturer to see if it could be repaired. The company representative asked for the serial number of the unit, then put her on hold. When the representative came back on the line, Weimer was told that the company would have to get back to her.

In retrospect, that was the first and only clue that something was wrong, Weimer said, until following day, when a New Jersey police detective made things abundantly clear.

The detective called Weimer and told her that both units were stolen from a human hospital in Jersey City. Weimer’s practice had to surrender the units.

While eBay does not release figures on how often stolen goods are auctioned at the site, the Internet and newspapers are rife with stories, which makes it seem as though scams and larceny are commonplace.

A few years ago, there were a number of articles about different groups that would steal items from retail stores, return them without a receipt to receive a gift card and then sell the gift card online at a discount. That activity forced eBay in 2003 to impose limits on the amount and frequency of gift card sales. Nowadays, a seller can auction off just one card worth no more than $500 in a week.

More recently, police in Australia arrested two men who are accused of using fraudulent credit cards to purchase items, which were then resold on Internet sites such as eBay, to the tune of $4.5 million Australian.

The sale of stolen goods on the Internet is enough of a problem that the U.S. Congress is considering three different bills, each designed to make such sales a federal crime.

eBay spokeswoman Nichola Sharpe, however, said that the online auction site, which works with police when cases of theft arise, encounters no more of a problem than traditional retailers and resellers, and it might even be less because the auctions are so visible.

“eBay is probably one of the worst places to sell stolen goods because everyone can see it,” she said.

Buyers who use the online payment system PayPal also can be protected, Sharpe noted. PayPal, which is owned by eBay, features a service known as PayPal Buyer Protection, which allows a buyer to recover funds if a seller does not deliver or misrepresents an item. Buyers also can get a refund if a PayPal investigation team finds an item was misrepresented, damaged or stolen.

Weimer, in the meantime, is not dissuaded from eBay. She recently bought another pump from the online auction site for $96. She also wrote to the hospital where the first pumps were stolen, citing interest in getting the pumps back if the hospital was not going to use them once the police investigation concludes. 

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