POLICE BACK OFF EBAY CLAIMS

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  After nearly two weeks of silence over allegations that a Nigerian 419 fraud syndicate had "hacked" into American internet giant eBay's database, the South African police eventually reacted on Wednesday. But there is still no news for eBay clients who have been kept in suspense over whether their credit card details and other personal information are safe.

  Senior Superintendent Mary Martins-Engelbrecht, police spokesperson, said on Wednesday that after investigations by the Gauteng police and police head office, a decision was taken to hand the investigation over to the Gauteng chief commissioner "for a comprehensive investigation". She said because the investigation was "very sensitive" at this stage, police could not yet confirm whether the 419 syndicate did indeed crack eBay's database. "This will depend on what the investigation uncovers."

  eBay previously told News24 that it had "confirmed 100%" that a compromised database with user information did not come from its servers, saying they rather believe the data in the hands of South African police was the result of "phishing" efforts. The US Embassy in Pretoria, speaking on behalf of the US secret service, later confirmed this.

  "Phishing," is the act of falsely claiming to be the website for a legitimate enterprise, for example eBay, in an attempt to scam internet users into surrendering private information that could be used for identity theft. Hani Durzy, eBay spokesperson, told News24, "'Phishing' has replaced spamming as the biggest problem on the internet today. While spam is irritating, 'phishing' is dangerous."

  Martins-Engelbrecht did confirm that the quasi-police website - www.419legal.org - on which information about the 419 scams and claims about the eBay "hacking" appeared, has been "suspended because it isn't an official police website". Inspector Rian Visser of the police's commercial crimes unit in Johannesburg managed the site and is also in charge of the police's investigations into 419 fraud countrywide. Visser has since been silenced pending the results of the investigation but he said earlier that if he was ordered to shut down the website he would "continue to run in it my personal capacity".

  He was committed to do this because of the extent of the 419 fraud schemes. In just three months - May to July - this year, the 419 schemes swindled people all over the world out of about R100m, the website reported recently. A visit to the site on Wednesday showed that it was still functioning, but a disclaimer now appears stating that as of August 6 the service "is no longer affiliated to the South African Police Service but managed privately".

News24