Young women 'catfished' ISIS out of $3,300. Will they be punished?

Three young women from Chechnya who posed as potential Islamic State recruits on social media are under investigation for fraud, but many online supporters say the girls are heroes. 

Damian Dovarganes/AP/File
Hands type on a computer keyboard.

Three young women from Chechnya have taken “catfishing” to the next level with an unlikely target: the Islamic State. 

The girls, who prefer to remain unnamed, allegedly contacted recruiters from the terrorist organization online through fake social media accounts and pretended to have an interest in becoming brides to members of the group. 

Like many of the hundreds of Chechen women who have been seduced by militants online, they told the men that the only thing stopping them from moving to Syria was a lack of money. Once they had been sent cash for travel expenses, the girls deleted their accounts and started the scam all over again with different recruiters. 

It’s unknown precisely how many recruiters the women communicated with, but by the time a Chechen police E unit specializing in monitoring online activities caught wind of the scheme, they had swindled roughly $3,300 out of the terrorist organization. 

One of the girls told Russian tabloid Life News that she was tempted at one point to accept the militants’ offer to travel to Syria, but ultimately decided against it.  

"Many people I know did go, but I know no one for whom it turned out well," she said.

The women have been lauded as heroes by Internet supporters around the world for outsmarting the Islamic State, with many declaring that the scammers should be rewarded for their actions. 

“Those girls definitely deserve recognition!” writes one commenter, John Davis, on the Russian state-funded RT website. 

“Give them a medal,” adds another commenter, Elias Kagan. 

But a scam is a scam, and instead of being rewarded, the girls are currently under investigation for fraud. If convicted, they face fines and up to six months in jail, the International Business Times reports. 

Police spokesman Valery Zolotaryov told a local newspaper, Moskovskii Komsomolets, that the situation was a first for the department, creating a legal gray area.

"I don't recall any precedent like this one in Chechnya, probably because nobody digs deep enough in that direction," Mr. Zolotaryov said.

There is speculation as to whether or not law enforcement will move forward with the charges, considering the victims of the scam. According to a report by Daily Mail, a spokesman for the police department said it’s possible officials won’t take any further action. 

“There needs to be a complaint from the other side and it doesn't seem as though this is going to be likely,” the spokesman is reported to have said. 

The three Chechen girls apparently aren’t the first to swindle the terrorist organization out of cash. According to RT, several men have also been known to pose as women online to dupe ISIS recruiters.

Such schemes may seem like an easy way to make some extra money, but officials warn that the risks outweigh the possible benefits. 

“I don't advise anyone to communicate with dangerous criminals, especially for grabbing quick money,” Zolotaryov said. 

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.