15-year-old accused of NIS 350,000 fraud

A Beersheba teenager was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of fraud and embezzlement worth at least NIS 350,000 through a scheme in which - with the knowledge of his mother - he forged credit card details to defraud on-line betting and charity donation Web sites. Ch.-Supt. Tamir Avtabi, acting commander of the Southern District Fraud Squad, said that for the past four months the 15-year-old used credit card information to charge at least NIS 350,000 on Internet sites including Toto on-line sports wagering, the Lotonet on-line lottery and Litrom, a site that allows small charities to raise funds on-line. While, in all of the cases, the teen seems to have simply tried various credit card number combinations until he came up with a valid number, his system for pocketing the results was different for each Web site. In one, he received commissions for drawing "new members" to the site, each of which was actually another credit card number stolen by the youth. On Litrom, police believe that the boy created a phony charity, and charged stolen credit card numbers with donations to the charity. In total, approximately NIS 50,000 in funds - one-seventh of the NIS 350,000 embezzled and spent on gambling, "commissions" and "donations" - were channeled into his mother's bank account. The scheme was uncovered three months ago, when the Toto site filed a complaint with Petah Tikva police. The local police tracked down the computer from which the credit card details were sent to a Beersheba location, and the case was immediately turned over to the Southern District, where the Fraud Squad began investigating. The detective work brought about results early Tuesday morning, when police stormed the house where they believed the offending computer was located. Police discovered four residents - a 17-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy, the teens' mother, and her partner, who were all taken to the station for questioning. "We initially suspected that the mother had carried out the fraud, because we saw that the money had been dumped into her bank account," said one senior Southern district police officer. "But we quickly understood that the daughter and the partner had nothing to do with this, and that the son was the one who had carried out the fraud." During questioning, the teen admitted to the scheme, and the mother said that, while she was aware that her son had acquired the money through illegal means, the "economic hardship" that the family faced kept her from reprimanding her son, telling him to stop or reporting his crime. Police said that the family did not appear to be facing economic hardship, as their residence was filled with pricey electronics - including the computer from which the crime was carried out. The teen and his 45-year-old mother were both brought to the Beersheba Magistrate's Court for remand extensions, where a representative of the Fraud Squad requested that they be released on bail under restricted terms in light of the fact that they cooperated with investigators and have no prior criminal record. The two were released on NIS 10,000 bail on the condition that they not use the Internet or leave the county. "I've seen similar cases with adults," said Avtabi, "but never with such a young offender. This kind of fraud knows no boundaries, and so it is important for citizens to keep track of their credit card expenses and not give out card information on less-than-secure Web sites."