Half of robberies might be fiction

PHOTO: PantherMedia / Scanpix

The police believe that around half of robbery reports in Tallinn and Harju County are made up. It would be funny if it didn’t needlessly burden the police or herald criminal consequences for the complainants.

“The share of misstatements in robbery reports has grown out of hand. That is the main problem,” said Hisko Vares, chief investigator of the North Prefecture’s robberies group.

Vares is part of a team who looks a robbery victim in the eye ever week. Fraudsters include foreign tourists, wealthy Viimsi housewives, and Lasnamäe minors. Detectives often discover that the alleged victim has lied to them and that criminal proceedings need to be launched against the latter instead.

Money is the object. People own increasingly expensive smart electronics. Losing one’s device at a party leaves one worse off materially and demoralized. Decisions to defraud the insurance company and the police follow in the form of lies and even reports of robberies that never happened.

Vares places fraudsters into four groups. Foreigners or Estonians working abroad make a false report of a robbery to recover lost phones, cash, or other assets. Because the assets are insured abroad or through travel insurance, compensation is paid out. That is why foreigners tend to add additional things to damage reports – cameras they didn’t even have with them for example.

The second group – mostly Estonians – use the robbery narrative in hopes the police will look for the item more thoroughly to increase their chances of recovering lost property.

Then there are young people who tell their parents a tall tale of a robbery after losing their smartphones. The following investigation usually determines that the youth gave the phone to a dealer to score drugs or simply lost it.

Less fortunate people often turn to accusations of robbery because of the die - hard conviction that they can get a replacement ID for free or more cheaply.

What really happens? “The main thing is alcohol. Insurance will not pay for incidents that happen when people are intoxicated, but that is exactly what they were,” Vares says. Insurance companies often do not have a cost - sharing rate or have a lower one in case of robberies.

What worries Vares is that even though people are told that filing false complaints is a criminal offense before they give their statements, it changes few minds.

One of the harshest examples of how a careless false complaint can ruin a person’s life is the case of 24-year-old Carl. The senior police academy cadet told the police in February of 2017 that an unknown man grabbed his iPhone 7, worth €759, on Uus-Tatari street in Tallinn and ran.

When investigators became suspicious, Carl admitted he lost the phone while on his way home from a nightclub at around 4 a.m. The man had lied in hopes the police would find his phone quicker and because the insurance company needed proof of criminal proceedings having been launched.

The court handed Carl a conditional sentence of six months with a year’s probation. The punishment dashed the man’s hopes of entering state employ.

How do investigators find out liars? “First, it’s a gut feeling. It develops over time when you read the complaint, talk to the person. When you start collecting evidence and see that it does not match the victim’s statements, you have certainty,” Vares says. Such an investigation is tiresome as many people top off their lies with new legends.

Head of the criminal assault service of the North Prefecture’s criminal bureau Roger Kumm says that roughly half of robberies they deal with are false reports.

Kumm says the problem is twofold. Firstly, addressing false complaints is one and a half times the work for detectives. First you must prove the complaint is false after which you have to prosecute the perpetrator. It wastes resources that could be used to investigate actual robberies.

“Certain proceedings would definitely move faster if we didn’t have to deal with these things. Estonians would like a safer environment, while some of our countrymen are sabotaging getting there with false complaints,” Kumm says.

The other thing is that people do not realize how criminal punishments can affect their life. “There are those who want to go and work in countries that require a visa only to find the door is closed to them as no country wants convicted felons,” Kumm said.

Going abroad will not save people from the ramifications of filing fabricated complaints. There is an international warrant out for a Finn who lied to a police officer but later refused to appear in Estonian court. “If they are caught abroad, they will wait to be extradited, be brought here, forced to wait for court – and they will be sentenced to prison,” Kumm said.

Assistant District Prosecutor Ruta Rammo said that whether people lie usually doesn’t depend on how wealthy they are. “There is no common denominator. People who have given false statements have had very different levelsof education, prosperity. There have been people for whom money is no object,” Rammo said.

The law makes a distinction between false complaints and false statements. The former is committed when the police are lied to about a specific or identifiable person. Most people lie about circumstances, in other words give false statements. In hopes of bigger compensation for example.

Rammo said that a false complaint is intentional when the victim initially describes the crime and its perpetrator in great detail but later claims they cannot really remember the circumstances. The court can order fines or conditional sentences for makers of false complaints and has in several cases.

“Filing false complaints is a crime against administration of justice, and the public prosecutor’s office has said that people who make them cannot be treated with kid gloves,” Rammo says.