HOW THE SCAMMERS WERE FOOLING THE FOREIGN "GROOMS-TO-BE"
Original material taken from Moscowskiy Komsomolets in Mari El, Russia
publication: issue #31, August 8, 2007
translated by Elena Garrett, July 28, 2010
Last week, agents of the UFSB of Russian Federation in the Republic of Mari El Republic completed a large sweep operation designed to capture a criminal group of Internet scammers. The operation began July 19, 2007.
As a reminder, the first operation of this kind conducted in September of last year netted nearly 150 of the so-called scammers. Near-simultaneous raids were conducted on 10 rental apartments in Yoshkar-Ola. The low-ranking members of the scam group captured during the raids turned out be all young males 18-25 years old. They have been carrying on their activities literally round-the-clock. Each day they would put on personas of lonely Russian ladies looking for foreign dating partners. Under that pretence, they would send 50-100 romantic emails to foreign citizens daily. During the correspondence they would use deceit to solicit large amounts of money. The duped foreign "grooms-to-be" would send to the scammers between one and six thousand dollars each. Those scammers who conducted the correspondence would receive 10-15% of each money transfer that the foreigners made. The rest of the money went to the leaders of this criminal group. In the event when a low-ranking members of the group expressed a desire to exit the criminal group, the "rebel" would be forced to pay the group leaders a "lost income" compensation - up to 300 thousand rubles (around 10 thousand dollars). Consequently, very few of the low-ranking members were seldom able to exit the group.
The UFSB agents discovered that the group's monthly income in 2006 was reaching 600 thousand dollars. The money was partially used to bribe scores of governmental officials. Some information indicated that part of the income received by the group was also being diverted to some specific regions of Russia with complicated criminal and political environment, which implied that the group's activities were becoming the issue of of the Russian national security.
The scope of the group's operations was impressive. The group's hierarchy and the job responsibilities of each of the group's members were strictly enforced. Besides the leaders and the low-ranking members, the group also had it's own "discipline enforcement" task force and the "rental apartment handling" task force. The group had agreements with over 70 females who would pick up the money transfers arriving from overseas.
In September of 2006, based on the materials received by the UFSB of Russian Federation in the Republic of Mari El Republic, the authorities were able to open a criminal investigation into the group's activities that, the investigators alleged, were illegal under the Article 159 Section 4 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation ("Fraud conducted by an organized group"). The authorities prohibited the leaders of the group to leave the Republic prior to the completion of the criminal investigation.
However, the business of defrauding foreigners (majority of whom were USA citizens) was too good to quit. The first experience with law enforcement did not unnerved the group leaders, and the group resumed its work. They changed the locations of their "offices" (the rental apartments), made improvements in their security measures, and tightened the discipline. But their attempts to avoid detection were in vain.
Almost exactly a year later, the authorities halted the group's work for the second time. The scammers were arrested again. Search warrants were issued for the group's "offices" and for the scammers' personal residences. The authorities searched six so-called "offices" and seized 37 computers and three satellite dishes. Seven of the most prominent members of the group were interrogated and, currently, six out of those seven are in jail awaiting trial on charges of violation of Article 159 Part 4 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation ("Fraud conducted by an organized group"). If convicted, they could receive sentences of 5 to 10 years of incarceration.
I could be noted that the group captured this week is not the only such group operating in the Mari El Republic. The law enforcement agents are preparing additional operations to capture several other similar groups of Internet dating scammers. Such planned operations are due to start shortly.
by NATALIA SMIRNOVA for MK in Mari El
original text of the article