Isle buyer finds
eBay laptop was
stolen ware

Joshua Smith, a senior at Brigham Young University-Hawaii in Laie, was shocked to find out the new Apple laptop computer he bought on eBay, an online auction site, was stolen.

An officer from the police department Germantown, Tenn., called to tell Smith the bad news last month.

Smith had been shopping for a deal on a new Apple PowerBook, which usually cost $2,700, he said. He said he was "stoked" to find one for only $1,750.

"I bought it as soon as I saw it because I didn't want anyone else to get it," he said.

It turns out the computer was one of several stolen from an Apple store in Germantown, a suburb of Memphis, Tenn.

Smith's experience, although uncommon, illustrates the need for caution when buying expensive items at lower-than-usual prices on the Internet and at local swap meets.

"Selling hot items on eBay is happening more frequently than I'd like, but it's not more common here (in Tennessee) than anywhere else," said Capt. Ed Palmer of the Germantown Detective Division and a former Honolulu police officer.

Kevin Pursglove, a spokesman for eBay, said the auction site requires personal information from buyers and sellers, including a verified credit card, and cooperates with law enforcement, which makes it easy for police to track down criminals who try to sell stolen merchandise on their site.

"Overall, fraud is a very rare occurrence on eBay," Pursglove said. "Sixty-nine million dollars in sales are generated every day. When you take in account these numbers, fraud is small, less than 1 percent and even smaller amount of those are stolen goods."

But, he admits, it can be difficult for buyers to determine if the merchandise they are buying is stolen. He recommends buyers e-mail other people who have purchased items from the seller and ask questions.

According to police, thieves drove a stolen 1994 Buick through the window of an Apple computer store April 24 and stole $30,804 worth of merchandise, including 12 laptops and several digital cameras.

An unidentified Hawaii woman gave Germantown police their first break in the case weeks later when she called Apple about a warranty for a laptop she saw for sale on eBay. It was one of four laptops offered for sale by Norman Mitchell of Charlotte, N.C.

Apple recognized the serial number the woman provided as belonging to one of the stolen laptops. The company advised the woman not to buy the computer but gave her no explanation as to why, police said. Apple then notified Germantown police that it had located one of the stolen computers.

Police worked with eBay to locate Mitchell, who did not realize he was selling stolen laptops. He said he had bought them from Shounderick Ward in Memphis for about $3,500, police said.

Police found Ward and recovered a digital camera with a picture of Memphis resident Kenneth Gray and his girlfriend Catina Johnson surrounded by five laptops and one digital camera, all of which matched the description of those stolen from Apple. Police said Gray and Johnson sold the items to Ward without erasing the evidence of their crime.

Germantown police have charged Gray with burglary and theft. Johnson has been charged with theft and is accused of helping to sell the merchandise. Ward is also under investigation, police said.

Police recovered two of the four laptops Mitchell offered for sale online, including Smith's laptop in Hawaii. Two Memphis residents also turned in laptops when they called Apple with the serial number and discovered the computers were stolen, police said. Police don't know who purchased the other computers since Mitchell did not keep records of the buyer, police said.

"Mr. Smith should be commended for voluntarily turning in the computer," Palmer said.

Smith admitted he tried to find a way around giving up the laptop, but after four or five calls from the police in Tennessee, Smith mailed the laptop.

"I'm glad I turned it in," he said. "The weight on my shoulders is gone."


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