Amazon has begun contacting possible victims in a large-scale autograph fraud case that resulted in federal fraud charges against a Maryland man.
As SC Daily reported last month, Joshua Aaron Shores, 41, of Bel Air, Maryland and also of Ocean City, Maryland, agreed to plead guilty to selling phony autographs through several business storefronts he set up on Amazon from 2008-2013.
Acting at the request of federal authorities, the company has reached out to buyers who may have purchased items through Shores’ businesses. In emails to customers, Amazon listed Autograph Showcase, End Game Sports, NC Sports Devils, Sunset Beach, and Tampa Bay Collectibles, all of which once had a presence on its website.
Amazon referred to the matter as “an ongoing criminal investigation into sales of suspected counterfeit or forged sports memorabilia made by a third-party seller.”
According to United States Attorney Peter Smith, Shores bought unlicensed replica jerseys from China, along with mini helmets, balls and other items, affixed non-genuine autographs of sports stars and sold them online. Investigators believe Shores took in approximately $2.5 million from buyers before the businesses were shut down.
Prosecutors say Shores used mailbox receiving services as his business address, created and registered PayPal and Amazon.com accounts in his name and in the names of others in order to receive payments from customers. He included “certificates of authenticity” with the phony signed items.
Shores had been the general manager of two restaurants in Maryland, one in Ocean City and other in Abingdon.
“Because you might have purchased goods from one or more of these third-party entities, the law enforcement agencies have asked us, as part of their investigation, to contact you on their behalf and to invite you to contact the law enforcement agencies directly,” the email to Amazon customers reads. “If you choose to do so, you may email the law enforcement agents handling this matter at [email protected], specifying your name, address, telephone number, and the details of your purchase(s) from the above-referenced third-party entities. The law enforcement agencies have requested that any emails be sent by March 11, 2016.
“The law enforcement agencies in this matter are honoring this by working with us as an intermediary to contact you. At Amazon, we expect high standards of our marketplace sellers, and so we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.”
The reply customers receive once they submit an e-mail indicates that “Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania is currently conducting a criminal investigation.” That reply questions information about specific purchases users made with Shores’ online businesses.
It’s likely authorities are attempting to determine the true depths of Shores’ fraud so prosecutors can determine whether restitution to victims might be part of his sentence. They may also be looking for more information to build their case for a stiff prison sentence for Shores based on the amount involved and the number of victims.
There was no immediate word on a sentencing date for Shores, who issued an apology for his actions through his attorney following his guilty plea last month.