Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Car Theft Victims Find Bandits Online

When Anastasia's 1993 Volkswagen Golf was stolen from a parking lot outside her apartment building in January, she had no theft insurance and little faith that police would find the car.

Feeling helpless, she decided to offer a $500 reward for the return of her car and posted the ad on a web site called Ygnali.ru, a web address that roughly translates as "They stole it."

Anastasia, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to be frank about the details of her case, is one of thousands of Russian car owners who post information about their stolen cars on web sites and forums and ask thieves to return the vehicles in exchange for money.

Victims on Ygnali.ru post details such as the date of the theft and the make of the car. Some include license plate numbers, and almost all offer cash rewards, sometimes as much as $12,000.

The web site, which lists no telephone number, openly suggests that it is a handy tool for victims to find those who stole their car and make a deal for the vehicle's return.

"Car thieves need to know if you're ready to pay a ransom and how much and what phone number they can use [to call you]," the site tells its readers.

It is unclear if, or how, the people behind the web site make money acting as an Internet middleman. A request for comment sent in mid-March to an e-mail address listed on the site remained unanswered as of Monday.

About 1,500 cars have been stolen in Moscow in the last two months, almost 60 percent of which have subsequently been recovered, said Lev Markov, a senior special missions officer with the Moscow city traffic police.

Police registered 1,852 stolen cars in the same period last year, 44 percent of which were recovered, Markov said.

Despite the increased recovery rate this year, car theft victims who posted rewards online for the return of their vehicles complained of police indifference when they reported the crimes.

"At the police station, they said, 'What do you expect? Cars don't get found. There's no point in filing a report,'" Anastasia told The Moscow Times in a telephone interview.

For several victims, online negotiations with purported car thieves have been equally fruitless.

Several complained that web sites such as Ygnali.ru were being used by scam artists to extort money from vulnerable crime victims who post information about their stolen vehicles.

"No one called except junkies," said one victim who gave only his first name and patronymic, Ruslan Nikolayevich.

Ruslan said he had his Mitsubishi Outlander stolen in March. He asked the callers to send a photograph of the car, but they never got back to him.

Ruslan said he posted an ad on Ygnali.ru because he wanted to "use all available options." He advertised a reward of $2,000 but admitted that he had "very little faith."

Police told him that the chances of his car being found were "one in 99," he said. Ruslan said he had another car stolen five years ago and that it was never found.

Inna Klyushova, who had her 2008 Toyota Auris stolen from outside her office in February, posted an ad on the site promising $1,500 for the return of her car. She said it was a last resort after police told her there was a 90 percent chance it would never be found.

A few text messages and calls trickled in from those who saw her offer, few of them legitimate. "It's all absolutely not serious," she said. "I could tell from the text message that they were written by a girl."

Klyushova said that at the time, she was absolutely ready to negotiate with criminals. "I was ready to meet them and reach an agreement," she said.

Unlike Anastasia, Klyushova's car was covered by theft insurance. "I've already calmed down," she said. "The people who steal cars live in fear all the time. Let them live in fear in the future.

"I think that my car has been driving around for ages in another region," she said. "Now I have no hope. I know I will never find it."

After her Volkswagen was stolen, Anastasia received phone calls offering her car back.

Curiously, however, the calls were made to her home telephone, which she had not posted on Ygnali.ru. The caller also knew her home address.

"They knew a lot more information than I put on the site," Anastasia said. "They talked about my registration, they knew our address. Naturally, only the police know that."

Vadim Kolesnikov, a spokesman for the Moscow city police's criminal investigations department, said he was aware of such ransom demands but said they are typically made by fraudsters using black market police databases, which can be purchased online or at pirate DVD stores.

Asked to comment on a case in which a victim received a call from someone who had the details of his stolen car, Kolesnikov said it was a swindle and that the caller had no idea where the vehicle was.

"They find the details from databases bought at the market," Kolesnikov said. "It's a scam. It just doesn't happen that way — that your car gets stolen and the next day it's back in your yard."