'Sting' operations threaten business

Rising number of 'sting' operations threatens business, BDI says. Consumers warned about holiday deceptions.

mall-88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
So-called "sting" operations in Israel are expected to increase by 30 percent this year, threatening to cost businesses more than NIS 180 million in losses annually, according to a survey published Wednesday by Business Data Israel. "There is a direct correlation between the economic situation and risk level of a business and the volume of sting operations. The majority of businesses performing sting operations have a history of business failures or fraud," said Eyal Yanai, co-CEO of BDI. "Therefore, it is recommended to test the history of the businesses before entering into any business ties." Sting operations are fraudulent actions that are performed on suppliers and businesses across various business sectors. For example, a customer who performs a sting buys an array of goods and products on credit, paying an initial amount in cash to appear trustworthy. The customer follows with a number of transactions on credit and disappears without payment after taking delivery of the goods, leaving a huge financial debt burden. In some of the cases, the sting operation is performed by a fictitious company set up solely for the purpose of the sting operation. In other cases "stingers" pretend to be representatives of an existing company, make orders in their names but have the commerce delivered to a different address. Economists at BDI said that, on average, 350 sting operations were expected to hit businesses around the country in 2007, of which 70% were take place before the Jewish holidays - Rosh Hashana and Pessah. In the period before Rosh Hashana, expectations are that on average 15 to 20 sting operations will be conducted a week compared with the weekly average of between three and four during the rest of the year. In 2005 and 2006, 270 sting operations were performed compared with 300 in the previous years. Yanai added that among the stingers were businesses in financial distress, who were trying to delay the collapse of their businesses. "The businesses did not plan to perform sting operations but after falling into severe liquidity problems, they start to buy merchandise knowing that they are not going to pay," said Yanai. Sector by sector analysis showed that the highest percentage of sting operations, 14% and 18%, respectively, was found in the food and consumption and other sectors, followed by the communications sector with 12%, household goods with 11%, holiday and entertainment services with 9% and financial services with 6%. Meanwhile, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry said consumers also were at risk for scams and urged them to invest time into smart shopping ahead of the Jewish holidays. "Consumers are often lured into shops by lucrative sale items for the purchase of regular items in the shops that often carry an expensive price tag," the ministry said. "Therefore, consumers should not stop inquiring and comparing as the differences in the large shopping basket and in the prices of products ahead of the holidays can be significant." In addition, the ministry called upon consumers to verify that "on sale" products, which are being promoted in shops, detail information of the original price. Other tips offered by the ministry for smart shopping included careful checking of shopping receipts to make sure the amount charged matches the price market.