Palestinian man impersonates Israel Post, steals over NIS 200,000

The man sent out phishing messages to thousands of unsuspecting victims, claiming they needed to pay a NIS 260 fee in order to release their package from customs.

A woman stands at the counter inside a Israel Post office in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
A woman stands at the counter inside a Israel Post office in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

A 22-year-old Palestinian man was indicted on Wednesday for masterminding a phishing scheme in which he would send text messages purporting to be from Israel Post claiming that a customer’s package was seized by customs – and there was a fee to pay to free the package – Israeli media reports.

Muhammad Abbasi of the Swahara settlement southeast of Jerusalem developed the scheme a few months ago, when he approached an SMS message marketing company and got a free trial to send 100 text messages to prospective customers/unwitting victims. Unbeknown to the marketing company, Abbasi’s message read: “Israel Post user, your package arrived in Israel but your package was stopped at customs. You need to release it you can pay here (payment link). You must pay within 48 hours. After 48 hours we will start taking a commission Of NIS 25.”

While victims believed the clearance fee – at least NIS 260 in his messages – was required to release their parcel, the money was actually being transferred directly into Abbasi’s crypto wallet.

After the marketing company caught on, they barred Abbasi from ordering more messages – but this did not stop the aspiring fraudster, who approached other companies and ordered tens of thousands of text messages and nearly 100,000 emails. his scheme ultimately netted him in excess of NIS 210,000.

 Israel Post postal worker delivers packages on his motorized scooter. (credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS) Israel Post postal worker delivers packages on his motorized scooter. (credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

While Abbasi believed he had made a clean exit and was planning his next round of phishing messages, numerous customers began complaining to Israel Post, which is Israel’s primary mail courier, and explained the situation to their customer service department.

"We thought you really sent us packages. I actually ordered clothes and shoes from sites abroad and only after a few days did I realize it was stinging," one customer told Mako.

Israeli Police’s “Blade 433” cyber unit opened an investigation, eventually identifying Abbasi as the perpetrator and moving to arrest him. While initially denying involvement during his arrest, police noticed that his technological expertise was quite developed during their questioning.

"We asked him to explain to us a particular matter regarding the scheme and suddenly he flowed with us and began to describe the actions that need to be taken. This is the moment we realized he is an expert in the field and acts like he does not understand anything in the digital world," the police officer told Mako. “You can understand how civilians fell into this trap."

Abbasi was finally indicted by the State Attorney’s Cyber Department and charged with four criminal counts: transmitting false information on computers, attempting to obtain anything fraudulently under aggravated circumstances, receiving anything fraudulently under aggravated circumstances and hacking into computer materials. Prosecutor Inbar Klein sought to deny bail and keep the defendant detained until the conclusion of his trial, citing that he would repeat his actions if released.