The transformation of traditional auctions to online auctions is a prototypical demonstration of the changes to classic offense forms wrought under the auspices of the global network. This project analyzes the newly emerged forms of crime and the reasons – which lie primarily in the anonymity of the Internet – behind the changes and increases in risk. It also demonstrates that the new offense forms are, for the most part, covered by the traditional criminal law of fraud.

The In­ter­net leads not only to com­pletely new forms of crime – such as hack­ing and oth­er at­tacks against the in­teg­rity of com­puter sys­tems – and to new needs for pro­tec­tion, it also al­ters tra­di­tion­al of­fense forms and the risks as­so­ci­ated with them. This is es­pe­cially ap­par­ent in the area of on­line auc­tions. Already in 2003, over el­ev­en mil­lion users were re­gistered with eBay Ger­many. Ac­cord­ing to a mar­ket re­search study, Ger­man con­sumers spent ap­prox­im­ately el­ev­en mil­lion euros on­line in 2004, a quarter of that sum on on­line auc­tions. These de­vel­op­ments were ac­com­pan­ied by new forms of fraud.

This dis­ser­ta­tion pro­ject stud­ies the new of­fense forms and risks en­gendered by on­line auc­tions and the ex­tent to which these of­fense forms are covered by ex­ist­ing crim­in­al law. Through the study of em­pir­ic­al data, this pro­ject ex­am­ines gen­er­al de­vel­op­ments in the area of on­line auc­tions and iden­ti­fies the spe­cif­ic crim­ino­gen­ic factors im­plic­ated there: in the In­ter­net, of­fend­ers can act an­onym­ously and glob­ally; on­line auc­tions are a part of a new growth mar­ket that is char­ac­ter­ized by buy­ers mak­ing ad­vance pay­ments; the pool of po­ten­tial vic­tims in the In­ter­net is large; vic­tims tend to be greedy and in­ex­per­i­enced, and they are eas­ily se­duced by the play­ful nature of on­line auc­tions. Ad­di­tion­ally, of­fend­ers em­ploy strategies to mask their iden­tit­ies and in­ten­tion­ally ex­ploit the time factor. As a res­ult, new pro­sec­utori­al chal­lenges arise on the na­tion­al as well as the in­ter­na­tion­al level.

Of­fense forms can be di­vided in­to those com­mit­ted by sellers and those com­mit­ted by buy­ers. As far as mod­us op­erandi are con­cerned, the fol­low­ing schemes dom­in­ate: sales of pic­tures and pack­aging (that is, the buy­er does not no­tice that he or she is en­ter­ing in­to a con­tract for the pur­chase of a pic­ture of an item or for pack­aging ma­ter­i­als); de­cep­tion re­gard­ing the iden­tity of the con­trac­tu­al part­ner (es­pe­cially through iden­tity theft and ac­count takeovers); shill bid­ding; non-de­liv­ery of goods; fee-stack­ing; de­cep­tion re­gard­ing will­ing­ness to pay; bid shield­ing by the buy­er (that is, the buy­er enters both a low bid and a very high bid, thus dis­cour­aging oth­ers from bid­ding; the buy­er then with­draws the high bid just be­fore the auc­tion is over and ac­quires the product at the low bid), as well as tri­an­gu­la­tion. The spec­trum of modi op­erandi cov­ers the use of highly tech­nic­al meth­ods and know-how as well as the simplest de­cept­ive man­euvers that are not suc­cess­ful on ac­count of their soph­ist­ic­a­tion, but rather suc­ceed solely be­cause of the large num­bers of ad­dress­ees in the In­ter­net – a group that in­vari­ably in­cludes nu­mer­ous na­ive and care­less per­sons, all of whom are po­ten­tial vic­tims. Thus, the trans­form­a­tion of tra­di­tion­al auc­tions to on­line auc­tions provides a pro­to­typ­ic­al il­lus­tra­tion of the changes clas­sic of­fense forms un­der­go un­der the aus­pices of the glob­al net­work.

Ex­ist­ing crim­in­al law does not al­ways provide suf­fi­cient cov­er­age for on­line of­fenses; in­deed, the ex­ist­ing fraud pro­vi­sion is par­tic­u­larly chal­lenged by these new of­fense forms. In many cases, the charge of fraud is not jus­ti­fied. The res­ults of the study do not, however, re­veal any In­ter­net-spe­cif­ic gaps in crim­in­al­iz­a­tion that need to be ad­dressed by means of stat­utory re­form. Meas­ures taken by auc­tion houses to pre­vent fraud have proved use­ful; the most ef­fect­ive pre­vent­ive meas­ures, however, are in the hands of the vic­tims.

This pro­ject is a dis­ser­ta­tion that was be­gun at the Lud­wig Max­imili­an Uni­versity of Mu­nich in 2003 and was fur­ther su­per­vised by Prof. Sieber at the Max Planck In­sti­tute in Freiburg fol­low­ing his trans­fer there. The pro­ject was fin­ished in 2007.