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Swampland sellers find new market on eBay

The Internet has helped bring back "swampland" sales in Florida as companies portray fairly worthless property as good investments, taking advantage of unwary out-of-state buyers. Some of the lots are actually underwater.

Just weeks after saying they were unaware of the trend on Internet auction site eBay, regulators with the state Division of Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes are investigating the practice for possible violations. Division chief Michael Cochran declined to provide any details.

Padamjeet Singh wouldn't be able to find the Volusia County property he bought in August if he tried. It's stuck on the fringes of a "vast water recharge area" _ or "swamp" in layman's terms _ just east of DeLand in Central Florida. There are no roads, just muddy trails. The land Singh bought for $7,900 is in University Highlands, one of dozens of swampy areas swindlers touted as investments in the '60s and '70s to buyers who paid for the land without seeing it.

Glenn Storch, a land-use attorney, notes that there's nothing illegal about selling a piece of land for any price a buyer is willing to spend. State authorities agree.

Under state law, the division is responsible for determining if sellers of subdivided land, like many on eBay, register with the state and submit advertising for review for fraudulent or misleading claims. Typical ads begin with large-type statements hyping sun-drenched beaches, proximity of Central Florida attractions and skyrocketing property values. They usually have small-print disclaimers that the land is offered for speculative purposes only, and no building projects are planned.

EBay has no plans to restrict or eliminate advertising of lots. Buyers are responsible for investigating land offers, even if sellers post exaggerated or misleading sales pitches on eBay, company spokesman Hani Durzy said.