Bailiffs stole ID to lure Russian debtors

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The Independent Online

A Moscow hairdresser is suing bailiffs from the Russian region of Udmurtia after they found a picture of her on a social networking site and used it to lure unsuspecting debtors into meetings.

In a television news report last week, bailiffs in Udmurtia boasted of a new scheme. They had set up a fake online account of a young blonde woman, and sent flirty messages offering meetings to men who had defaulted on debt repayments.

When the men arrived at the meeting, they were met not by the saucy blonde they thought they had a date with, but by bailiffs demanding repayment. According to the bailiffs, the scheme had worked a treat, and three debtors had been forced to return sums totalling £8,000.

But Yana Kulikova, a 26-year-old Muscovite, couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the news report. To lure their prey, the bailiffs were using a headshot of her that she had uploaded on to Vkontakte, a Russian version of Facebook.

They had created a new profile under the name of Elya, but the photograph was stolen from Ms Kulikova's site.

She is suing the Udmurtia bailiffs for 5 million roubles (£100,000). "I told my husband about it and he was in complete shock," Ms Kulikova told the Gazeta newspaper.

"I keep wondering what would have happened if he'd happened to log on to the site and found my picture and profile saying that I wanted to meet men. If it wasn't for the news item, he'd have never believed that it wasn't me."

The Udmurtia bailiffs' office expressed surprise at the lawsuit. The picture had been chosen when the head of the department that searches for debtors logged on to Vkontakte and searched for "beauty". Several profiles appeared, including Ms Kulikova's.

"After all, she put herself out there in such a way that we thought she wouldn't be against people marvelling over her physical traits," said Ekaterina Kuzmina, the press secretary of the Udmurtia bailiffs' service.