Anglo immigrants fear they’ve lost thousands

Losses blamed on failing currency exchange business; clients of ‘Cheerfully Changed’ say they can’t get their money and "just don’t know what to do."

By
July 1, 2011 07:53
shekel and dollar

shekel versus dollar 521. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Rumors of fraud, bad investments, and shady real estate deals are circling in the Anglo communities of Modi’in, Beit Shemesh, and Jerusalem, following the suspected collapse this month of a currency exchange company that was a fixture of the Anglo immigrant community.

A series of Anglos who contacted The Jerusalem Post reported that in recent weeks they have been unable to access funds they invested in branches of the “Cheerfully Changed” currency exchange company, and are having little or no luck receiving any answers, let alone money.

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Cheerfully Changed is a sixbranch company that was founded by Maryland native Jonathan Abeles in 1999 and quickly became a favorite destination for Anglo immigrants in need of wire transfers or other currency exchange services.

This past Sunday, Cheerfully Changed CFO Zalman Arnow posted a message that made its rounds on online message boards, in which he described the problems befalling the company.

“I have been working as an employee for a man named Jonathan Abeles who founded the company about 10 years ago. Jonathan has fallen upon difficult times and made several financial mistakes. He has suffered from bad investments, and it is possible that he himself has been the victim of theft and fraud. I can certainly attest to the fact that he is not inherently a thief – he is an observant Jew with a good heart. Understandably, this is of little or no comfort to the large number of Ramat Bet Shemesh [RBS] customers who are panic-stricken about funds which they deposited or invested in the RBS branch of Cheerfully Changed.”

He added, “I feel terrible about the suffering that these people are going through, and will do everything in my power to assist them in whatever way possible. I hope and pray that Hakadosh Baruch Hu [God] will help each and every Ramat Bet Shemesh customer to retrieve their funds quickly and painlessly.”

Arnow said he was “working with the local Daas Torah to assure that the matter is handled correctly. I have also been working with the representative of the group which has formed to address this crisis collectively.” He urged anyone with money in an account with the company to get in touch.



Jonathan Abeles did not respond to phone calls or emails from the Post this week.

Cheerfully Changed customer Zohar Flamenbaum said her ordeal started when she tried to transfer $2,000 from her American bank account to her Israeli bank account in mid-June. She said she had avoided using the bank because the fees were higher and the transfer time longer.

Flamenbaum said she then emailed the relevant transfer information to Cheerfully Changed, who told her they would take a one percent commission and the transfer would take two to three days. Four days later she checked the account and said she saw no sign of the transfer having taken place.

Flamenbaum said she tried repeatedly to get Abeles on the phone, but had no luck. She said that she then “began researching the company, making more phone calls, and it didn’t look good. My colleague’s friend had visited her branch and saw that it was closed with a sign on the door with a phone number saying available until 12 p.m. I called the number and spoke with someone who said the money was stolen from their account and they’re trying their best to get the money back to their customers and it would take a bit.”

She said that she was given the run around by employees and later contacted Arnow, but received no response.

“Mary,” a British immigrant to Israel, told the Post that the Wednesday before last she went to the Modi’in branch of Cheerfully Changed with over NIS 20,000 that she and her American husband wanted converted into dollars and transferred to their bank account in the States. Mary said she and her husband were advised by the company to give them all of the money in cash right away and hold off on the transfer to the States in order to wait and see if the exchange rates become more favorable.

The following Sunday, Mary went into the branch with more money to transfer and was told by an employee that there was a problem with her money, that the company was going through some sort of financial difficulties and they didn’t have their money at the moment. When her husband asked the employee if he could just transfer the money straight into the American account, Mary said he was told that the computers had crashed.

She added that her husband asked an employee of the branch if they would be able to get the money back or if the business had gone bankrupt, and were told “I don’t know” in response to both. Later, when Mary said she threatened to write about the incident on the English-language “Modi’in List” online forum, Abeles called her husband and sent him an e-mail saying the money was transferred to their US bank account.

“The next day I heard that they had gone bankrupt,” she added.

Mary said she then contacted her US bank and was informed that there was no evidence there had been a money transfer. She immediately posted a message on the Modi’in list about Cheerfully Changed, and in her words “people started e-mailing me in droves – all of them with similar stories to ours, some involving more money, some less. People just don’t know what to do.”

Mary said she then went and filed a complaint with the Modi’in police department, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

“Dianne,” another former customer who wished to remain nameless, said she went to a Jerusalem-area branch of the company on Sunday and was told that her money was no longer there.

She said that many of the customers had “internal client accounts” at Cheerfully Changed, where they would place their money instead of in a bank account.

When asked why people didn’t just take all of their money to banks to begin with, she said “they [Cheerfully Changed] kind of built this whole thing on trust; there’s all these Americans there and its very American friendly.”

Dianne said that employees of the company are still answering the phones and have been returning money bit by bit to customers over recent days.

Though she said she had heard rumors about bad real estate investments, Dianne said she “doesn’t think he stole the money” and in regard to the economic hardships suffered by former customers, she said that she thinks Abeles will “try to do good by it.”

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