Baltimore Police Department's First Cyber Sting eBay 1999
1 Dec 1999
Stolen Items Recovered in `Cyber Sting'
Internet: Baltimore police officer enters winning bid after theft victim finds his belongings for sale at online auction house. December 01, 1999 | By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF
Morris Sochaccewski had given up ever seeing the prayer shawl and other religious items stolen from his car in October. He had even talked to his insurance agent about filing a claim.
But two weeks ago, a friend from New York called and suggested that he check on the Internet. Sochaccewski found his belongings up for sale on eBay -- the online auction house that lets people worldwide bid on almost anything.
The 49-year-old lawyer recognized his property immediately. To entice potential bidders, the seller had posted a picture showing blue velvet pouches emblazoned with Sochaccewski's name in gold Hebrew lettering.
Sochaccewski called Baltimore City police, and Officer Ken Driscoll logged onto a computer and started to bid. He jumped in at $158, and stayed with the bidding until he had topped 36 others with a $395 offer.
His bid locked in, Driscoll simply had to wait for the seller to e-mail him to arrange the exchange. She did, and he arrived at her home in Pikesville yesterday with a search warrant.
Police found some of the items Sochaccewski had reported stolen: his tallit prayer shawl, worth about $100; and his tefillin, another religious item, valued at $800. "I didn't think I was going to get them back," Sochaccewski said.
It turned out Sochaccewski's belongings had been close to home. He lives on Shelburne Road in Northwest Baltimore.The woman who auctioned his property lives eight blocks away on Lightfoot Drive in Baltimore County.
Police did not arrest the woman because they want her help in finding the person who sold her the items, taken Oct. 26 from Sochaccewski's Chevrolet station wagon on Conway Street near the downtown Sheraton Hotel.
The woman, who police did not identify, told Driscoll that she bought the religious items for $10 at a flea market on North Point Boulevard in eastern Baltimore County. She also told detectives that she might recognize the man who sold them.
Driscoll said the woman had set the opening bid at $20.
"Beautiful Hebrew Prayer Set in 2 blue velvet pouches," says the description of Sochaccewski's personal effects, categorized as Item 201722947. "The first is a fine wool tallis in excellent condition All of these high quality items have been stored in a plastic zippered case, which has preserved their cleanliness."
Kevin Pursglove, a spokesman for eBay in San Jose, Calif., said 400,000 new items are offered for sale on the site every day and only a tiny fraction are believed to be stolen or fraudulent.
"Perhaps the dumbest place to try to fence stolen materials is on eBay," Pursglove said. "You've got millions of eyeballs turned into the site every day, and most of your transactions can be traced."
In March, eBay abruptly halted bidding that had reached $5.7 million for a human kidney, saying the seller had violated company rules, and possible federal law, by offering body parts for sale.
Pursglove said it is a rare stroke of luck to stumble upon a recognizable item among the site's 3.4 million offerings. The company employs several former prosecutors who monitor the site and will "fully cooperate" with local police.
Pursglove said Baltimore police could have contacted the company, whose representative would have conducted a "cyber sting" to find the person selling Sochaccewski's property. But Driscoll took matters into his own hands.
To avoid tipping off the seller with a police e-mail address, Driscoll signed onto eBay from his home computer and bid with his own money.
Driscoll started the bidding Nov. 22 and finished the next day -- entering the winning bid at 9: 40 a.m.
"It was fun," said Driscoll, who knows his way around the computer. Once a sale agreement is made, the seller must contact
the buyer and discuss how the exchange will be made. The woman e-mailed Driscoll that day and gave him her home
Yesterday morning, Driscoll and other officers from the Central District Major Crimes Unit moved in and seized
Sochaccewski's belongings. Now they are trying to find the thief who threw a rock through his car window.
As for Sochaccewski, he doesn't have Internet access at home. After his friend called from New York, he had to go to a neighbor's house to get online. Driscoll called the successful endeavor fate: "They belonged to him, and they made their way back to him."
eBay was created in September of 1995, by a man named Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar was living in San Jose at the time. He wanted an auction site of his own, and at the time it was called, “AuctionWeb” – His dream was for it to be an online marketplace, he completed the code for what would later become eBay in just two days. It was one of the first websites of its kind in the world. The name 'eBay' comes from the domain Omidyar used for his site. His company's name was Echo Bay, and the 'eBay Auction Web' was originally just one part of his Echo Bay's website at eBay.com. The first thing ever sold on the site belonged to Omidyar, it was a broken laser pointer, and it sold for $14. The site became massively popular, as sellers came to list all kinds of odd possessions and effects. Buyers seemed to be willing to buy anything, and sellers seemed to be willing to sell the most bizarre items. Relying on trust seemed to work remarkably well, and meant that the site could almost be left alone to run itself. The site had been designed from the start to collect a small fee on each sale, and it was this money that Omidyar used to pay for AuctionWeb's expansion. The fees quickly added up to more than his salary at the time, so he decided to leave his job and work full-time on the site. It was at this point, in 1996, that he added the feedback facilities, to let buyers and sellers rate each other turning the site into a safer community for buyers and sellers. Thefeddfack system was helpful but not foolproof as we’ll discuss later in a 1999 Cyber Sting, which became one of the first such cases in Baltimore. But first, lets, continue from 1996 to 1997 when Omidyar changed his company name and AuctionWeb to 'eBay,' which is what people had already been calling the site for some time. He began to spend a lot of money on advertising and had the eBay logo designed. It was in this year that the one-millionth item was sold (it was a toy version of Big Bird from Sesame Street). Then, in 1998, at the peak of the dotcom boom when eBay became big business, and the investment in Internet businesses at the time allowed him to bring in senior managers and business strategists, who took it public on the stock market. It started to encourage people to sell more than just collectibles and quickly became a massive site where you could sell anything, large or small. Unlike other sites, though, eBay survived the end of the boom and is still going strong today. 1999 saw eBay go worldwide, launching sites in the UK, Australia, and Germany. eBay bought half.com, an Amazon-like online retailer, in the year 2000 - the same year it introduced Buy it Now - and bought PayPal, an online payment service, in 2002.
The Feedback helped reduce crime, PayPal helped better protect buyers, but the one thing that was less covered was buying and selling of stolen goods. While at the time eBay told reporters they had security that would have helped locate sellers and help return items that might have been stolen, the police had no idea how they would do this, or what their legal authority would have been. After retiring, Detective Driscoll saw an item listed on eBay that he knew to have been stolen. He contacted their security and was told they would investigate the auction. The first thing that Ken noticed was it wasn’t easy to find the phone number for security; even the email was not easy to pull up. But after Ken found the needed information and made contact, he was able to explain what he had found, the item in question was quickly removed from the auction site. Later security contacted Ken telling him; the seller agreed to remove the item from the website but did not want their information released to the police and to protect buyers and sellers, eBay couldn’t give us the information without a court order (subpoena). By this time we knew the seller had been contacted and the item most likely long gone. So basically back in 1999 the way, Central District's MCU (Major Crime Unit) a DDU (District Detective Unit) handled in the best way it could have been to ensure the owner would get his items back. This squad was the type that liked to hold their cases close to the vest, so as not to have any chance for a suspect to be tipped off. So what they did with permission from their Major, Major Steve McMahon, and Sergeant, Sgt Randy Dull, was to place a high bid on the stolen item. There were tons of pictures, that had already been positively identified by the owner as his. The problem was, if it turned out that it was not his, and The unit was bidding on the eBay account, They would be on the hook for the full amount of the bid because bids were a binding contract. The only thing we knew of the seller was that they lived in Baltimore, so Driscoll put an initial bid in of $300, not long after this Det Driscoll saw two people bidding against him quickly running the bids up. Not only were bds coming in, but then Driscoll begins receiving messages from the other bidders telling him the Shawl was stolen. They were telling Ken to stop bidding the item was stolen, they knew the owner and that they intended to buy it and give it back to the owner. Ken couldn’t tell them who he was or what he was doing all he could do was ignore their messages, This angering the other bidders but they figured they could perhaps outbid Driscoll, and so they continued to run the bid up on.
In the end the Major Crime Unit won the action, which led to more mail from those that bid against him, with some name-calling and threats. Ken ignored their messages until he had the item in hand and the news had covered the story; then he sent them his answer with links to the articles written about the case. Ken explained he couldn’t respond because he didn’t know who he was talking to or what they might do with the information. They apologized for their language and the way they spoke of and thought of the detective. They went on to thank him and his unit for their attention to duty in helping their friend get his Shawl back.
This is an UNOFFICIAL site of the Baltimore Police Department which depicts the history of the department as was told by Retired Officer William M. Hackley; Officer Hackley passed away on March 15th 2012 as such Ret. Det. Kenny Driscoll will take over sole responsible for the sites content. The thoughts and use of certain items, terms, sound, and implications are not necessarily those that may be the same as the Baltimore Police Department, as an official Governmental Agency. The intent of this site is to Honor the Department, and the fine men and women who serve the citizens of Baltimore City. This site is dedicated to our Fallen Heroes who in the course of the performance of their duties were called upon to make the Ultimate Sacrifice. As you look through the many pages of this site you will see the Baltimore Police Department from its infancy showing the crude way of policing to the modern highly efficient department that it is today. Please enjoy this site for what it is, a rendition of the proud history of one of this States finest Police Departments one which we were proud to have served, and many men and women still proudly serve the Baltimore Police Department. Any request for official police information must be made directly to: Baltimore Police Department.
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