Feds Charge Romanian with Fraud in Bogus Online Auto Sales

The suspect may be in Romania, but that didn’t stop a federal grand jury in San Jose from indicting a Romanian citizen on three counts of bank fraud in a scheme to defraud consumers with fake online automobile auction advertisements, authorities announced Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan, in a joint press release, said Ionut Ganea, 28, while living in Romania, conspired to defraud consumers of nearly $2 million in 2019-2020 by posting fraudulent automobile auction advertisements on multiple automobile websites.

They said Ganea remains at large, and the investigation is continuing.

The online automobile auction advertisements contained information typical of legitimate auctions, including photographs of the automobiles for sale.  The indictment alleges, however, that the automobiles advertised for sale were not owned by the purported sellers.  The purported sellers thereafter communicated with interested buyers through online messaging platforms and induced them to place bids on the auctions, according to the indictment.

After a victim-buyer “won” an auction and wired payment to the seller’s bank account as instructed, the vehicle was never delivered.

The indictment alleges Ganea acted as a “money mule” in the scheme, collecting the illegally obtained money and sending it to the other participants in the fraud.  Ganea used fake identities to set up bank accounts in the United States with legitimate banking institutions.  The bank accounts were used to receive the wire transfers of funds from the victim-buyers in the fraudulent auctions. Ganea then allegedly withdrew the funds from the accounts, prosecutors said.

The indictment alleges that between December 2019 and September 2020, Ganea opened at least 74 bank accounts in eight banks across the U.S. while using 28 fake names and fraudulent passports from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Latvia.  According to the indictment, 117 individual victim-buyers wired nearly $2 million dollars to these accounts, and Ganea withdrew more than $1.8 million of those funds.

The federal indictment charges Ganea with three counts of bank fraud. The maximum statutory sentence for each violation is 30 years in prison, a fine up to $1 million or twice the gross gain or loss amount and five years of supervised release after prison.

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