Lawyer Mordechai Tzivin
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/ By Cellia Shani /
Dozens of businessmen, among them many Israelis and Haredim, fell victim to a “French Sting”. They now find themselves wanted by the Interpol and law authorities of European countries, who have issued against them arrest warrants. Also, a lien was placed on their bank accounts.
The origin of the sting is in France, and it focuses on the transfer of large sums of money between different bank accounts. There is an entire industry all over the world and also in Israel which is involved with money transfer between different countries, via private accounts, exactly like the work of money exchange agencies all over the world.
Many account owners agree to position their accounts for the money transfer, because of a promise to receive in return a big interest, which can reach up to 30%. Through this, a person located in Europe can conduct an EFT for large sums of money, and receive immediately the money in cash. But this system is actually a sting. This is actually an invitation for thieves. Criminals are very active in this kind of money transfer, via third parties.
How does this take place? The criminals request to make a money transfer of a million dollars in order to get the sum in cash. The victim who is supposed to give the cash in exchange for the bank transfer, receives a confirmation from the transferor and also from his bank that there was actually a transfer of a million dollars, and then he releases a million dollars in cash from his account. The money is transferred, but then he is informed by his local bank that the money transferred is stolen. Once this happens, he has lost a million dollars. In addition, he finds out that a lien was placed on the remainder of the money in his account, on suspicion that it too is stolen. And from that moment the victims are under suspect for fraud, and their case is handed over to the Interpol.
According to attorney Mordechai Tzivin, in some of the cases, when money is transferred from country to country to the accounts of the victims speedily, it works. This is because until the authorities find out that the money is stolen, the money is no longer by them and in their responsibility. But if the owners of the account which via it the money was transferred don’t move fast – although the money is not theirs – they will be suspected of fraud.
According to Tzivin, in recent month there were at least 10 cases of people who fell victim to the sting, and there is an investigation against them in several countries. In one of the cases, of an owner of an account in the Far East, the amount of money involved was 997, 000 Euro. His account was placed on line, and an investigation is held against him on suspect for fraud and money laundering, with the Interpol also in the picture.
In another case, of an Israeli account owner in Switzerland, a lien was placed on a sum of 400, 000 Euro. In this case too an investigation was opened. “We want to inform you”, wrote the Swiss bank representative to the Israeli owner of the account, “that at this moment you cannot use your account, because the money transferred to your account is suspected as being part of a fraud. We are investigating the case and we’ll keep you up to date”.
An additional Israeli, owner of a bank account in France, said that shortly before Passover, he was requested to transfer 100, 000 Euro. “I gave an account number, and after a couple of days 600, 000 Euro were transferred into my account. Within an hour, several people came to my office demanding the money and said they will not leave the office until they receive their money. I was afraid to get in trouble with them, so I took out the money, gave it to them and they left. A week passed and I was shocked to get a notice from the bank in France that they are taken from my account 600, 000 Euro, and that the money that was transferred to me was stolen. I was told by the bank that an investigation was opened, and I have the possibility to return the money to the bank and if not I’ll be arrested and legal procedures will be opened against me in France. I didn’t have any option, so I gave the money and lost 600, 000 Euro. It was a question of giving the money back or getting in trouble with the law”.
The criminals are most probably looking for naive people with money, and with such who will be afraid to get in trouble with them, because these criminals are a part of a sort of mafia. The problem is that also the EU who enables easily money transfer between European countries, makes the sting easier to commit, and this phenomenon is only happening more and more. A money changer said that he heard of a colleague of his who lost 5 million Euro in the French sting. Another money changer said that almost every week he hears about two new cases; and he himself is waiting for the end of an investigation so his money can be released and that criminal procedures won’t be held against him in a foreign country.
According to the money changer, the French sting hurt the change market badly. “We have become very suspicious, afraid to deal with money from France and in general worry with dealing with Euro’s. The problem is we have no idea who is requesting the transfer. The turn to account holders or money changers is done by a person who represents himself as a friend, acquaintance or relative and was sent by those criminals. It’s possible that along the way additional agents are added. They request from the naïve account owners to do them a favor and promise a fantastic interest of 30%. Many of the account owners find it difficult to resist to a promise of such a large interest.
One of the account owners, who has fallen victim to the scam, said this week that he fears leaving Israel since he might get arrested. According to him, as soon as suspicion aroused that it was a fraud, all his money and accounts were placed on line. “And the worst of all is that also anybody who had any connection to my account, family members and others whom I transferred money to, are also under suspicion and are under surveillance”.
It should be noted that since these events take place in foreign countries, the Israeli authorities are not included in the investigation.
Attorney Mordechai Tzivin, who has international connections, some of which are mysterious and unusual, represents some of the bank owners who have fallen victim to this sophisticated sting.
According to him it is possible to defend oneself against this sting. This, among others, via an immediate notice to the bank that the money is not yours and that you refuse to accept them; this in the case when the agreement was to transfer a small amount of money but actually an especially large amount was transferred or in the case in which the account owner was exploited and did not know that money was to be transferred to his account.
Tzivin has important advice to all of us: “Don’t accept money into your accounts, unless you are convinced beyond all doubt that the origin of the money is legal and legitimate”.