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Published: Tuesday, 9/12/2006

Swamped on the 'Net

BACK in the 1960s and 1970s, many unsuspecting folks were conned into buying worthless swampland in Florida, usually by fast-talking telephone sales sharks. No one should be surprised that this same scam now is being replicated on the Internet - except maybe the gullible individuals who are falling for it.

News reports from Florida indicate that thousands of trusting souls are being victimized via eBay and other Internet auction venues, lured by promises of a cheap retirement or quick profits on undeveloped "waterfront property" they've never seen.

Most, if not all, of this land is covered by swamp and cannot be built on; often it's part of so-called "paper subdivisions" that don't officially exist.

Still, legions of buyers ante up as if to validate the 19th century adage, "there's a sucker born every minute." Undoubtedly, the ruse gains credibility because the auctions are conducted over the trusted electronic bazaar the Internet has become.

Even a mortgage broker quoted by the Orlando Sentinel professed indignation at being reeled in to the tune of $46,500 on the purchase of three 1 1/4-acre lots in a central Florida county. "You cannot do anything with the land," he said. "A whole bunch of people were misled, and I didn't like that."

Of course not, but what did he expect?

A major difference from the scams of 40 years ago is that the state of Florida seems to be doing more these days to prosecute the land sharks, and that's commendable.

In a recent case, a Daytona Beach man was required to offer refunds to 187 dissatisfied buyers to avoid a $1.87 million fine. Under a consent order, the seller paid $189,000 in penalties and investigative costs, according to the Sentinel.

Amazingly, some of those bilked ignore warnings in Internet offers that the land is not suitable for construction but choose to believe companion come-ons that, as one ad exclaimed, "One day soon, when this area becomes further developed, this land could be worth a small fortune!"

If you believe that, we've got a bridge in Brooklyn that also would make a mighty nice investment. Just contact us at www

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