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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cell Phone Scams Bring In $500,000

City Crime Statistics
 April 10-16 
Theft (total)924344
Apartment burglaries10010
Car theft224
 For the Record 
Car accidents200
a) killed18
b) injured242
Public drunkenness4,288
Detained overnight258
Missing persons30
Bodies discovered62
Source: Moscow police

Police have arrested four people suspected of swindling a total of $500,000 from victims in two cell phone scams by convincing them that their relatives would face jail time if they did not fork over cash, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The suspects were arrested last week by officers from the Interior Ministry's high-tech crimes department, ministry spokeswoman Irina Zubareva said.

A fifth suspect died in the hospital after falling from a seventh-story window while trying to evade arrest, Zubareva said. Of the five, three operated in southern Moscow and two worked in the Moscow region. She declined to provide further details about the man's death or with which group he was suspected of working.

While the two groups operated independently of each other, the scam was the same.

Using pirate databases of cell phone operators purchased at local markets, the suspects dialed random subscribers and, posing as police officers, told them that their son or daughter had mowed down and killed a pedestrian, Zubareva said.

To make the story more believable, the caller would hand the phone to an accomplice claiming to be the victim's relative.

"They used sound technology to disguise the voice," Zubareva said.

The supposed relative would also feign shock to explain away any voice discrepancies, she said.

The supposed police officer would then demand large amounts of cash in exchange for not pressing criminal charges, she said.

The three suspects operating in southern Moscow had been running the scam since November, Zubareva said. They used the name Oleg Borisovich for the fictitious officer and would demand that $20,000 be placed at an agreed cash drop, usually a post office box, she said.

"They called cell phones because people who use them typically have more money and are able to pay the ransom," Zubareva said.

Authorities believe the group made about $400,000 from the scam.

The other two suspects arrested last week, who worked independently from the trio in southern Moscow, operated the scam in Podolsk, just south of Moscow, and defrauded victims out of $100,000 over the last six months, Zubareva said. They called people and posed as a nonexistent police chief named Sergei Nikolayevich, she said.

Authorities believe a total of 70 people were conned into handing over cash in the two scams. The suspects, whose names are not being released because of the ongoing investigation, have been charged with fraud and face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

Numerous cell phone scams have emerged in recent years. In one such ruse, people receive calls from supposed representatives of a cell phone provider. They are told that they have won a new cell phone model and that they must buy a phone card and dictate the pin code in order to hook up the new handset, which is to be picked up at the company's offices the next day.