Th, 1.06.2023
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«Nice» fraudsters arrested

Risto Berendson
, reporter
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Down the streets of Narva, there drives a fancy car. And comes to a screeching halt as driver spots a dead pigeon. He exits, heads to kids playing a hundred metres away, and hands them €10 to please bury the poor bird.  

On the passenger seat, somebody was deeply touched. This very day, she was willing to let the «nature lover» take out a loan in her name for noble purposes. A kind hearted guy like this will do no evil.  

The pigeon story went viral, mouth to mouth, and an increasing amount of people were willing to help him fund his plans linked to EU support. They were all cheated.

The «nature lover» was a wanted man. A bunch of crooks led by him has misused the trust of dozens, if not hundreds.  

For a month now, he has been under arrest. Along with seven alleged accomplishes – six men and two women, mostly aged up to 35 – are suspected of making money out of simpletons.

«A large investigation for us,» admits Northern prefecture department head Toomas Jervson.

Among those taken advantage of were some of their own relatives. The investigators think the damages may amount to half million euros. Right now, they are at €200,000 in their counting.

Possibly, the fraudsters will end up charged as a criminal organisation.

Tipsy and silly

The criminal investigation was launched in November 2015. After an owner of a three room apartment in Kopli, Tallinn discovered that his home was security for a loan of tens of thousands of euros. He is paying it monthly now, little by little.

Telling the police, he said he recalled meeting this pretty woman and they developed a trusting relationship. At some point, the girl felt bad and said that surgery would help.

Not one to drink, the guy remembers they raised glasses and what came afterwards is blurry. Probably, he signed his name somewhere, to be used to secure a loan with his flat as guarantee.  

The police figured this was not a one-off. They went after similar instances of crooks got hold of people’s ID cards or signatures citing employment contracts or legal consultations, landing the victims with surprise financial obligations.

Turned out, such victims were many, mostly from Ida-Virumaa. Not a single outcast. Just the trusting kind, willing to believe the stories. «Basically, to get the signatures, they told the people whatever was working at the moment,» say investigators.

Pawn-a-car trick

So some had apartments signed off, others cars pawned. Still others ended up with fast loans. Often, the victims thought that by their signatures they were helping applications for EU support.

Pawning of cars reached into the dozens. They had a car park of their own for the purpose, where 17 cars used in the scheme were snatched by the police.   

With the cars, it was simple. Pawn shops were lied about the value of vehicles, instead of €1,000 they might have said €3,000. For the transaction, a victim signed his name, thinking that he would be a partner in a company-to-be, for instance. As the money was transferred, crooks took it. At best, the one who signed got €50–€200.

«Thankfully», pawn shops seldom bother to find out true value of cars. With luck, the fraudsters afterwards managed to even sell the car. Making multiple profits.

All victims were Russian speakers. Thus dwelling in a different information space where people still believe the stories about buying out relatives under police investigation in Lithuania.

At top of the pyramid, police found a guy with criminal record. Daily, he gave directions to henchmen seeking victims, prepared documents to get the money, and arranged payments. Those working underneath him, mostly without prior criminal background, were often strangers to one another.

Outwardly, the gang lived the good life. Decent homes, flashy cars. The boss drove a BMW X5. Having collected the evidence for half a year, in mid-April the police opted to snatch them all at once. In searches, they got tens of thousands of euros in cash.

The prosecutors say that by now, there is basis to charge the leader with over 50 crimes. Other than him, four men and a woman are still under arrest as well.

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