Ukrainian student has lost 12.500 euros after a phone call with criminals: ‘It sounded so logical’

05 Sep 2022

How could he be so gullible? The Ukrainian Herman Fomenko (18) often ponders this question. Cybercriminals hacked his bank account. They cheated the war-traumatised biology student living in Nijmegen out of over 12.500 euros. Just one phone call turned his entire life upside-down. ‘I lost everything and now have to survive.’

Eric Ligtenbelt from Arnhem has started a crowdfunding campaign. The young Ukrainian Herman Fomenko, on whom the war in his homeland is taking a heavy toll, must be helped, he thinks.

The Russians have only been invading for a month, when Herman receives a phone call at the end of March. There is an immediate problem, says a recorded voice in English, claiming to be from the Ministry of Justice. Herman stays on the line and gets to speak to a man and a woman.

He is horrified.

A stranger has supposedly used his social security number (BSN) to open another bank account, they tell him. A debit card with Herman’s name on it was found in Amsterdam. Something needs to be done immediately, before criminals deposit the money into another account and take off with his entire savings, the woman says. He needs to deposit the money into another, supposedly safe, bank account which nobody can access. Only then can he safely access his money.


It worries him, because the story sounds believable. Herman can’t find the form with his BSN on it anywhere. Meanwhile, his stress levels are rising. Maybe he lost the number, the student thinks, who came to Nijmegen to study at Radboud University before the war broke out.

‘In hindsight it was a strange phone call’

‘At that moment the story sounded so logical and trustworthy’, Herman sighs. ‘In hindsight it was a strange phone call. I thought that maybe this was how it worked in the Netherlands.’

He had to transfer his money to the supposedly safe bank account in bitcoins, via a cryptocurrency app which he first has to download. That was supposed to be safer. He would be able to immediately make use of the bank account.

No response

The gullible Herman follows the advice. Then the phone call is disconnected and it remains silent. Dead silent. Not a single euro is left in his old bank account. The ‘newly opened account’ is nowhere to be found. When Herman calls back, no one answers. No matter how many times he tries.

Slowly but surely the realisation sets in. The money is gone. In the hands of thieves. Herman has been scammed and is up to his ears in trouble. A nightmare. ‘Whenever I called back, I heard a tape recording. It was impossible to speak to someone.’

‘Maybe I went along with the phone call because of the stress’

The 18-year-old Herman is already going through a tough time because the war broke out. His parents are in a bomb shelter in Kiev. Running from bombardments. ‘They have so much misery, it is awful. I am very worried,’ says Herman.

‘Because of all that pain, my thoughts are often with them. Even then. Maybe I went along with the phone call because of the stress, it caused me to not think straight. I mustered up the courage to tell my parents only three weeks ago. I felt so deeply ashamed.’


A few days after the incident, Herman went to the police. He filed a report on cybercrime. The police can do little. He willingly transferred the money, he was not forced.

The bank also can’t do anything; the transaction is untraceable because of the cryptocurrency app. Problems keep piling up. He can no longer afford his rent. Herman moves in with a friend and cancels his lease. He can forget about the deposit. ‘Because I cancelled the lease myself before the contract expired. I was hoping for some leniency.’

‘I am trying to survive’

Later on, he finds a room in student housing complex Hoogeveldt. He also started working as a waiter at café De Hemel. But with what he earns, he can’t pay for his education by a long shot. For students from outside the EU, the tuition fees are well over 11.500 euros. There is no room for leading a normal student life. ‘I am trying to survive’, says Herman. ‘These are hard times.’

In the meantime, Ligtenbelt is hoping to raise as much money as possible. ‘The story moves me’, he says. ‘I hope he can stay here. Going back to Kiev is not an option. He will probably need to go to the front as a soldier then.’

This article by Mitchel Suijkerbuijk previously appeared in De Gelderlander.

Translated by Jan Scholten.

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1 Comment

  1. Bart Steenbergen wrote on 8 september 2022 at 12:39

    Recent is bekend gemaakt dat alle hbo-instellingen en universiteiten in Nederland het collegegeldtarief voor vluchtelingstudenten uit Oekraïne verlagen naar het wettelijke tarief van €2209,-. Het UAF steunt dit initiatief

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