Home news Pledge fraud: When 25 cents become millions of euros - Panorama

Pledge fraud: When 25 cents become millions of euros – Panorama

  • Before the district court of Cologne, three suspected pledge fraudsters must answer this Wednesday. They are said to have struck at least 450 000 euros by manipulating machines.
  • Investigations against pawn fraud are usually tedious and complicated. Fraudsters import returnable bottles, fake etiquette or manipulate vending machines.
  • The German vending industry had warned before the introduction of the one-way deposit that the system could attract scammers.

25 cents are a lot of money, at least for an empty plastic bottle. The price is so high because it should be an incentive for consumers: not throw empties carelessly in the trash, but specifically to the recovery cycle feed, for the sake of the environment. However, the German deposit system with its relatively high reimbursements also provides high incentives for criminal activities. Time and again courts are busy with the processing of such offenses, this week in three cases.

Three current cases

Case 1: In front of the Dusseldorf district court, the managing director of a beverage market was accused of being responsible for a deposit fraud worth 1.8 million euros. As the evidence showed, however, he had no idea what was going on in the business in Neuss, as the court announced on Tuesday. He had been used by a friend as a straw man. He had manipulated the deposit machines so that vouchers had been printed for which there was no equivalent in returnable bottles. The fraud occurred within a year, between July 2013 and May 2014.

Case 2: In Berlin, two of the pawn cheater accused had to answer. They too had been accused of manipulating a vending machine; Fraud in 116 cases was stated in the indictment. After the machine had scanned the bottles, they were not crushed and thus devalued, but fell unharmed into a container. So they could be introduced again, recorded and settled. Almost half a million bottles too much was so billed. The spoils of the former managing director duo: around 115 000 euros. The regional court closed the procedure on Tuesday against money conditions. The 32 and 34 year old men should each pay 3000 euros. The two were not convicted, their actions were a few years back and were difficult to understand.

Case 3: From this Wednesday on, three alleged pawn fraudsters are sitting at the district court of Cologne at the dock. They are said to have struck at least 450,000 euros. Their trick was to manipulate the machines so that bottles could be billed multiple times.

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Just last year, a beverage dealer was also sentenced to ten months probation in Cologne. He had put one and the same bottle exactly 177 451 times in a row in a machine and made nearly 50 000 Euro profit. "I put a radio aside because I was bored," he said in court.

"Only isolated cases". Is that correct?

Almost always, investigations into deposit fraud are tedious and complicated. Not always the resulting damage can be adequately regulated. Somebody will then stay at the expense. The question arises: does the German deposit system, which should protect the environment, pose a danger to those who need to implement it?

Deutsche Pfandsystem GmbH (DPG) is in charge of organizing the bottle return in Germany on behalf of the retail trade. "Pledge clearing of one-way beverage packaging subject to a deposit" is their business field in the jargon. "These are isolated cases, which we have all brought to the announcement," says managing director Verena Böttcher referring to the recent appearing scams.

After having been informed for the first time by a beverage company about conspicuous data records in machines in spring 2014, DPG immediately became active. Ads were reimbursed, detailed reviews made. Meanwhile, says Böttcher, a number of measures have been taken to increase safety. "So there are no system gaps, irregularities are in the system".

But are these really just isolated cases? In 2018, prosecutors nationwide tracked down around 60 cases in which criminals had converted vending machines with criminal energy, according to the report mirror, More than 100 million euros is supposed to be the damage that has been caused so much since 2014 alone.

The DPG can not confirm this information, it is not operational in the deposit clearing involved and do not have appropriate numbers. Nevertheless, CEO Böttcher emphasizes: fraud is not worth it. The DPG is doing everything in its power.

Manipulation and label fraud with announcement

Even before the one-way pledge was introduced in Germany at the beginning of 2003, the German vending industry warned that it could attract scammers from Germany and abroad. Fraudulent activities are inevitable, said Klaus Rudolph, Managing Director of multi-reverse vending machine manufacturer MRV. With the high pledges of up to 25 cents, the incentive to import cans and bottles from abroad to Germany would be high, and they would have to collect a pledge, "said Rudolph.

He should be right. In 2013, for example, the Munich police caught a 33-year-old Hungarian with fake PET bottles in a supermarket. The man said that he had been recruited in Hungary and had traveled to Munich for the purpose of handing out false returnable bottles.

In the same year, policemen in Potsdam made a surprising find. In the hold of a pick-up truck, also from Hungary, the officials discovered large quantities of plastic returnable bottles and tens of thousands of counterfeit deposit labels. In a warehouse they came across another Hungarian transporter, which had also loaded plastic bottles, apparently from Eastern European production, intended for vending machine fraud in Germany.

Antitrust law as an obstacle to preventive measures

But DPG and retailers are confident to uncover fraud on a grand scale. Anyone who comes to the deposit machine with unusually many bottles will inevitably fall for it. "Our system works flawlessly, standards and functionality are regularly checked," says DPG Managing Director Böttcher. Any manipulations or manipulation attempts would be detected quite quickly by the system participants themselves.

The automated take-back system relies on computer-stored bottle dimensions, the barcode and the logo on the label of bottles and cans that identifies disposable or reusable. The code identifies the bottler of the drink and the type of container. In total there are 600 bottlers and hundreds of thousands of shops in Germany. And even if it were technically possible to register how many bottles are in circulation, the Bundeskartellamt prohibits central data collection. This is how it wants to prevent individual providers from getting an overview of market shares.

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