Israel Police Uncover Sting Operation to Defraud Immigrants From Former Soviet Union

Almog Ben Zikri
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Shekels.Credit: Bloomberg
Almog Ben Zikri

Twelve people were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of defrauding elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They were brought before the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court, which extended their detention.

The suspects allegedly defrauded their victims by means of an international hoax known as the “Lithuanian sting,” in which they told the elderly persons that their son or daughter has been involved in a car accident and if they don’t want the authorities to find out, they need to hand over a large sum of money. Police believe the largest amount of money stolen from one individual in this way is more than 50,000 shekels (about $12,588).

All in all, the gang allegedly managed to steal about 1 million shekels. The police are aware of 270 attempts made by the gang in recent months in Israel, in half of which they were able to obtain sums ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of shekels from each of their alleged victims.

The police published a warning against the sting on September 9, 2015.

Superintendent Hezi Rottenberg of the Southern District fraud squad, which made the arrests, said that the suspects worked in pairs – one to phone the elderly person and give them the false information, holding them on the line so they would not have the opportunity to call relatives to confirm the story. The other would meanwhile go to the victim’s home to quickly collect the money before suspicion could be raised.

The police said some of the victims were so thoroughly taken in that when informed that they had been defrauded, they refused to believe it.

During the undercover operation that resulted in the suspects’ capture, police officers, with the assistance of Interpol and the Israel Police representative in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic States, went to Lithuania. There, they worked together with local authorities against the two key suspects operating the ring from Lithuania who were responsible for the sting in Israel.

The gang then allegedly transferred the funds through various money-transfer firms to Lithuania, where the leader of the international crime ring apparently has his headquarters. The spokesman for the Southern District police, Doron Benamo, said that the method is known in Europe and North America and according to Interpol, is the fourth largest sting operation in the world.

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