Bums and fools in loan shark jaws

Risto Berendson
, reporter
Please note that the article is more than five years old and belongs to our archive. We do not update the content of the archives, so it may be necessary to consult newer sources.
Photo: Kohtutoimik

While investigating an international computer fraud, in spring of 2012 economy police spotted a suspicious behaviour pattern of its alleged leader and his acquaintances – the young guys loved to have dealings with outcasts or people slightly disabled. Daily.

As you may have guessed, this was not driven by charity, rather by selfish gain. And so the police got on trail of crooks arranging a major fast loans boom in Estonia.

«By single cases alone, the police would never have gotten to the essence of it,» admits Janek Maasik, head of economic crimes department at Central Criminal Police.

Why? Firstly, financial institutions will never see the puppeteers behind problematic loan assumers. Secondly, for a financial institution a debtor usually is just a single case i.e. something for debt collectors to deal with. The puppeteers are never reached, being of no interest to debt collectors.

The gut feeling

Therefore, the loan sharks felt rather serene. Every «borrower» was dealt with to the degree it was useful. As a rule, the fast loans per person were five or six. After that, the «object» was dumped.

The key person to it all is a computer-minded Artur Orlov from Kallaste, on the banks of Lake Peipsi. For several occasions already, the young man was of interest to police as related to international computer fraud suspected. Specifically, the investigators wanted to know if Mr Orlov had set up a scam where credit cards of unsuspecting US and Australian pensioners were used to pay for calls to paid operator numbers in Somalia and East Timor.

Quite the typical computer fraud, the needed credit card data on semi-public sale at specialised internet forums. In the case at hand, the losses were modest as well, to the tune of €6,500. Therefore, the issue looked not overly fancy, but still needed to be searched out.

Looking into the dealings of Mr Orlov who lived in a rented apartment in Tartu, his circle of connections proved a lot wider than the usual computer fan – pointing towards criminal interests. What may a computer crook and a well-known Tallinn car thief Šalva Mamutšarašvili have in common? Years ago, the latter stole the rally racer Margus Murakas’ competition car Mitsubishi Lancer – an event much noted in Estonia.

The gut feeling in investigators proved correct. The common thread was material interests – finding people in Tallinn, Tartu, Valga and Kallaste caught in the wheels of life, ready to assume quick loans for some small favour.

As the investigators tuned in, what unfolded was the daily work of the crooks. Every morning, they either just drove around seeking contacts with down-and-outs. Or else they headed to have talks with some definite outcast, taking the latter a small gift for a birthday or the like. Day after day, this went on.

If an «object» had no identity document or bank account to take a loan, the crooks speedily arranged that. If the «object» lacked «commercial looks», the bodywork was applied – they were dressed decently, taken to hairdresser and manicure etc. Formalities passed, they headed to varying fast loan branches.

The coterie had roles firmly allotted – one was searching for «objects», the other was falsifying the «object’s» credit history and filed loan applications, a third one drove the «object» to be identified in post office as necessary to assume the loan, and a fourth collected the money transferred to the account. 

To get a fast loan in the name of an outcast or simpleton is a piece of cake. As a rule, a prior negative «credit history» is missing for they simply haven’t taken any loans. Therefore, all was running smooth.

Appetite whetted

In the rare cases where somebody at the loan office had the idea of calling the borrower-to-be and check the willingness to take the loan, the gang had a person answering the phone number written on the application and merrily confirming the case.

«In the name of down-and-outs, as many fast loans were drawn as possible,» says Southern District Prosecutor’s Office special cases prosecutor Marge Püss. «As revealed by the materials, there was this person for instance in whose name six fast loans were drawn in a day.»

Six loans a day is a lot, but an eater will only increase in hunger. There dawned the day when, in addition to the couple-of-hundred-euros fast loan stuff, the crooks thought to try the larger banks. A couple of times, they applied for small loans of €2,000. It worked.

With a «computer specialist» who sends the bank PDF-format printouts of falsified bank accounts, who would a bank decline a small loan to an outwardly credit worthy individual?   

But why limit oneself to borrowing only? Having been trusted by the bum with personal data, the crook went for the jack pot. Thinking about instalment payments. So, in the name of the «objects» they purchased mobile phones, TV sets, laptops, cameras and other such valuable stuff.

Small loans and instalment payments were written using the names of some fifty outcasts. A total of about €210,000 in damage was inflicted. Legally speaking, €70,000 of that qualified as criminal grouping revenue, the remaining €140,000 resulted by individual dealings by gang members.

On the face of it, the damage was not vast; still, for the investigators it was a win. «As there were no applications to police, the investigators were racing with time as victims were being added daily,» says Mr Maasik.

In August 2013, the investigators assumed they had amassed evidence enough. So they opted to go for it, so to speak. In the morning of August 13th, simultaneously in Tallinn and Tartu policemen approached five gang members and had these arrested.

364 pieces of proven fraud

The sleepy «brain» Artur Orlov was apprehended in his Tartu rental apartment. Visibly shaken, the man begun by denying it all; then, beholding the pile of evidence, he later changed his mind.

When it comes to assets, not much was retrieved from the gang. All the court managed to confiscate was Mr Orlov’s LG plasma TV (worth €1,950), mobile phones iPhone and Samsung, game console Sony Playstation 3, and €140 of cash.

But then there was a lot to investigate. A criminal file composed of 74 volumes – far from the usual. All in all, 364 frauds and computer frauds were considered as proven, 138 of these committed as a criminal organisation.

In October, Tartu County Court ruling entered into force whereby the entire organisation was jailed for several years to come. In addition to the organisers, three «objects» were found to be guilty – unlike others, they were intentional about the frauds and substantially more widely used.

The criminal organisation

•    Artur Orlov (24). The head and the brain. Punished by three years and five months in prison.

Earlier punished for computer fraud in Estonia and the UK. Punished for misdemeanours eight times.

The task was constant information exchange via phone and Internet; verifying loan-worthiness of the objects, filing loan and instalment applications in their names; answering phone calls or having someone answer when fast loan firms called to check; organising transfers via objects and drawing the cash from ATMs. Also, he collected goods from post or couriers, bought with instalments, and sold these.

•    Vassili Mihhailov (28). Communication guy and driver. Jailed for three years.

No prior criminal punishments. Punished for misdemeanours six times.

Tasked with constant information exchange via telephone; seeking for objects via Internet and transporting these to post offices for identification and to bank branches to sign deals; seeking assistants to crimes. Also, he was driver and trustee for Artur Orlov, trusted to transport cash.

•    Ilko Mitnitšuk (51). Administrator – seeking and grooming the outcasts used as objects. Acted in South Estonia. Jailed for three years and two months.

Criminally punished in 2001 for robbery, imprisoned for six years. Punished for misdemeanours six times.

Tasked with constant information exchange via telephone; seeking objects via Internet; ensuring their livelihood; organising their outward looks; organising their transport to post offices and bank branches for identification and deals. Also, he held the documents of the objects, and handled distribution of income.

•    Artur Dubin (23). Counterfeiter. Punished with three years and two months of imprisonment.

No prior criminal record. Punished for misdemeanours twice.

Tasked with constant information exchange via phone and Internet; preparing documents needed for fraud over the Internet (falsifying bank account printouts); checking creditworthiness of objects; filing loan and instalment applications in the name of objects; answering calls by lenders or organising answers; organising transfers of money of objects; and drawing the money from ATMs or having somebody do that. Also, he collected goods from automated parcel terminals or organised its collection from couriers.

•    Šalva Mamutšarašvili (31). Administrator – sought and recruited the outcasts. Operated in Tallinn. Punished by five years in prison (as added to former conditional sentence).

Punished criminally on three occasions, the latest being in 2011 – conditionally for theft. Six sentences for misdemeanour.  

Tasked with constant information exchange via phone and Internet; as helped by Artur Dubin, organising documents via Internet and filing applications in the name of objects; organising transporting of objects to the banks; and distribution of criminal gains. 

•    Galina Šapovalova (38). Actress. Punished with a year and three months, conditionally.

No prior criminal and misdemeanour record.

Tasked with constant information exchange between other members of the organisation; carrying out orders by Ilko Mitnitšuk and Artur Orlov; as instructed by these, calling to fast loan providers in the name of objects.