Two Israeli women allegedly have been exploiting the goodwill of Israelis, as they were requesting "help" in emergency financial situations while traveling in South America and disappearing without repaying the borrowed funds.
The two women, who went by the names Or and Noga, have reportedly scammed dozens of Israeli backpackers over the past few months, including Chabad houses and local businesses, by borrowing varying amounts of money, both small and large. They claim to be in dire straits, asking for financial aid via wire transfer or in cash, and promising to repay the amount borrowed. However, once they receive the money, they vanish.
The Israelis who were scammed have come together and created a WhatsApp group, through which they have been communicating with authorities. The victims also added to the group Or and Noga who assured them for months that the money will be returned, but in reality, most of them are still awaiting repayment. Some individuals managed to pressure the scammers and successfully received their money back, but dozens are still awaiting a response. When confronted and informed that their story would be publicized, the two threatened to retaliate with legal action.
Maya Balteron, a volunteer in South America, shared her experience: "About four months ago, I sat with two Israeli women during a Shabbat meal at a Chabad house in Brazil. They gave the impression of hardworking girls and that everything was fine with them. They mentioned that they would be returning home soon.
After about two weeks, they came to the hostel where I was staying and told me that their flights were canceled. Several Israelis helped them find new flights, but when it came to payment, they created a group with the hostel, where one of them claimed her credit card was gone, and the other didn't have a phone to make the payment. They said their parents had no means to assist them financially and asked for help from people at the hostel."
According to Maya, "No one wanted to help, and others ignored them, but I couldn't continue with my daily routine. They told me that buying tickets in cash at the airport would be cheaper, so I went in the middle of the night to withdraw money for them. The ATMs didn't work, so I thought, 'Maybe it's a sign from God, maybe I shouldn't give them the money?' I went back to sleep, and they woke me up in the morning, saying they had a flight soon, and only I could help them. They promised that their parents would send me the money, and of course, I trusted them."
Maya explained that she couldn't believe that the two women would disappear with the money: "We are on the opposite side of the world, and I never thought that two Israelis would scam me. I even said to myself, 'Well, nobody wants to help them, I have to do it.' I didn't want it to haunt me. I'm traveling alone, and I know it could happen to me too."
At this point, Maya went to the bank with the two women and withdrew $550 for them: "I waited with them for a taxi to take them to the airport, and, of course, we exchanged information. The only thing I noticed was that they didn't even say 'thank you.' They just said they would return the money and that I saved them. Since then, they have been avoiding me, and most of the time, they don't even respond to me. They managed to travel to countries I haven't been to—Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua—and now I realized they are in Guatemala."
When Maya was in Colombia, she realized she was scammed: "I was sitting in a restaurant in Cali when I received a message from someone asking if I was also one of those who were scammed by the two Israeli girls. I was sure they were messing around with me, and I didn't suspect anything. But then I started crying, unable to believe it happened to me. To this day, I haven't seen a single shekel of the money I gave them. Their parents blocked me, and I have no one to talk to. I'm a waitress, and I worked very hard to pay for my trip."
Maya tried to reach the two and sent them messages, but she received no response. "They continued to scam both Israelis and locals, making a terrible reputation for us in that region. I told them I need the money back, but it was the last thing they care about. Unfortunately, they have no conscience."
Yonatan Ben Aharon, 22, has been traveling in South America for five and a half months. He met the two girls in Brazil and gave them $200 to help them.
"They were staying with me in the hostel and tried to befriend me. I said, 'Alright, cute girls.' A day before they left, they came to me and said they were in trouble because they had a flight home through El Salvador, and they had no way to get to El Salvador. Or did most of the talking and said they didn't have a credit card, and their phone was broken. I asked how much money they needed, and they said 'a thousand reals.' I went to withdraw money for them without suspecting anything. Israelis abroad usually tend to help each other."
After three weeks, Ben Aharon joined Facebook groups in Peru and saw Or showing interest in attractions. That's when he started to suspect.
"I asked her, 'What's going on? Aren't you back in Israel?' She replied that she had a flight from Peru. I didn't want to believe I had been scammed. Another month and a half passed, and I still had no pressure of receiving my money back, so I didn't contact her. I shared what happened with a friend, and he said he met someone with the same story as mine. I spoke with him and realized it was the same two girls. It was the weirdest feeling I've ever had in my life. I wanted to help because I saw two Israelis stuck, but how can people take advantage of others' kindness? I helped plenty of Israelis, and nothing like this ever happened to me."
At this point, Ben Aharon decided to publish the story in Facebook groups in South America and warn other travelers.
"I asked people who were scammed why the girls' names haven't been publicized, and they said that Or threatened to sue anyone who publishes their names. Suddenly, more and more people revealed they had been scammed, raising awareness. It's important that these two will return to Israel. They are giving a bad reputation to Israelis because they scam not only fellow Israelis but also local businesses. They shouldn't be roaming around here."
Or said in response: "We didn't scam anyone. These were our friends who helped us, and we told them that we would return the money. We have already returned it to most of them, so we didn't scam anyone, and we will never scam anyone. It's easier to just hear one side of the story."