TORONTO — Police have arrested an Israeli man who allegedly defrauded Jewish subway commuters of sums ranging from $40 to $1,000.
Israel Aharonovitz, 63, was arrested Jan. 9 at the Glencairn subway station after police witnessed him approaching three women asking for money to help him out of a financial dilemma.
Police allege he targeted Jewish women and men by appealing to their religious convictions and telling them they would be performing “a mitzvah,” or fulfilling a religious duty, by giving him the money.
“The premise he uses is the mitzvah. He preys on the religious aspect of people. He guilts them,” said Det. James Turnbull of Toronto Police Service.
Turnbull said Aharonovitz would approach passengers between the Lawrence West and Eglinton West stations, start a conversation and tell them a story about a sick wife who was in need of medication. He would ask for directions to the hospital and tell them he couldn’t convert his shekels or that his bank card wouldn’t work in Toronto.
He told them he owned a restaurant in Israel and would treat them to a meal when they visited, and he told them any money they gave him would be a loan and would be repaid.
He would then accompany his victims to an ATM machine at their stop, where they withdrew the money, Turnbull alleged.
Aharanovitz allegedly focused on women aged 20 to 30. Toronto Police Service issued a news release last week asking for information about the alleged perpetrator. That led to “good results,” Turnbull said, including four men who came forward saying they, too, had been approached by him.
Police learned the frauds generally took place between 9 a.m. and noon. “I went out at 10 to see what we can see,” Turnbull said.
He soon spotted Aharanovitz and trailed him for a time on subways, seeing him approach three women, who all rebuffed him. Shortly afterward, he made the arrest.
Immigration authorities were informed. Police allege Aharonovitz was in Canada illegally, Turnbull said.
He was charged with four counts of fraud under $5,000. Police believe there may be more victims. Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-1300, or to call Crimestoppers at 416-222-TIPS (8477), go online at www.222tips.com, or text TOR and leave a message to CRIMES (274637).