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Police Warn Buyers to Avoid Virtual Fencing

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RALEIGH — Electronic commerce is growing on the Internet, but not all of it is legal. Police say they are seeing an increase in the use of the Internet by criminals to sell stolen merchandise.

Online auctions, bulletin boards and online classifieds are becoming breeding grounds for crime.

Captain Mike Longmire of theRaleigh Police Departmentsays thieves now use the Internet to sell, or fence, stolen property. He says "the possession of stolen property is a crime"; therefore, if a user buys an item, knowing or suspecting that it is stolen, the user is also committing a crime.

One recent Triangle case involved the sale of stolen computer equipment on theeBay auction site. Longmire says if deals are too good to be true, then users beware.

He says if buyers do not know the person selling the product, then they should ask questions such as, "How did you come about this property? Is it in fact your property? Do you legally possess it, and have a right to sell it?"

Online newsgroups list everything from homes to compact discs. Some potential buyers question sellers. Longmire suggests that buyers call their local police if they suspect an item may be stolen. Investigators check out queries case by case.

"If you believe it might be stolen, don't buy it," he said. "If your intuition tells you there's a problem with this deal, it's too good to be true, don't get involved in it."

When buying items from an individual online, it is just like buying from a stranger on the street.

"Don't let your greed get the best of you because you could become a criminal," Longmire said.

Stolen items are sometimes advertised in newspaper classifieds; however, the Internet provides criminals a worldwide opportunity to profit from their criminal activity.


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