At least 16 Russians were tricked into trying to set fire to government buildings and cars.
Scammers told them to drink Molotov cocktails, but most of them failed, local media reported.
Some were told to shout Ukrainian slogans, even though they believed they were helping the Russian army.
Russian pensioners are being tricked into throwing Molotov cocktails at Russian military offices and official cars, according to local media.
Since the war in Ukraine began, Russian citizens have carried out at least 16 separate attempts to set fire to government or bank assets at the behest of fraudsters, independent Russian media outlet MediaZona reported.
The people involved tried to set fire to employment offices, bank ATMs, a car trunk and a police station, but most failed, the mall said. At least 11 of them were over 55, according to MediaZona.
Some of them, such as Yelena Belova, 65, were told to shout pro-Ukrainian slogans as they sipped Molotov cocktails, even though they were also told they were helping the Russian military.
Russian police arrested Belov in August after she set fire to the trunk of a deputy army chief’s car, according to independent Russian news outlet Shot.
“Azov is power!” Belova shouted as she threw Molotov cocktails, Shot reported. The Azov Battalion is a far-right paramilitary force in Ukraine, and praise for the organization is banned in Russia.
According to the independent publication “Baza”, an unknown person called Belova and convinced her that she would be included in a “special operation”.
The caller convinced her to send them large sums of money and then told her to set them on fire as part of his mission, the outlet wrote.
When detained, Belova told police that she supported the war in Ukraine and would never have set the car on fire if she had known it belonged to a military commander, Baza reported.
The first thing that would-be arsonists get is scam calls
Another possible arsonist, a 67-year-old woman identified only as Olga, on March 27. tried to light two Molotov cocktails and throw them into a recruitment office in Nizhny Tagil, according to Shot.
But she was stopped by a policeman, the Shot reported. Olga told authorities that an unknown man had been calling her for a month, saying he was a bank employee.
According to Shot, he taught Olga how to make Molotov cocktails and told her to start a fire in a government building.
When police confronted Olga, she called a scammer who tried to convince her they were fake agents, according to a video posted by Russian Telegram channel Ural Mash.
“Try to hide now, what are you doing there?” Have you been released or are you still holding on?” the man asked Olga.
“No. They hold me. We are standing on the street where I was stopped,” Olga told her husband on the phone.
The man asked Olga if there were any bottles left that she could throw, or if she still had a lighter.
“No,” she told him.
The local shopping center E1.Ru reported that Olga had just lost her son to cancer, and the scammers persuaded her to sell the apartment and take out loans.
Most of the arson attempts were committed by elderly people, who later did not even try to escape from captivity, MediaZona reported.
They include 70-year-old Alexander Rassokhin, who lit a Molotov cocktail and placed it on the office window, and a 71-year-old woman who set fire to a carpet at a bank branch in St. Petersburg. MediaZona.
The 71-year-old woman, whose name has not been released, called someone on the phone after the attack in October. “I completed the task. Get me out of here,” she told another person on the phone, according to the St. Petersburg news outlet Fontanka.
Others had money stolen from their accounts and were told they would only see the cash again if they threw Molotov cocktails at certain government buildings, the Shot reported.
According to MediaZona, some of the duped Russians were younger, such as a 36-year-old mother with a newborn and a 22-year-old student.
Russia’s federal service issued a fraud alert in December. The department blamed Ukraine for the calls without providing evidence or justification.
Fraudsters convince “trusting citizens to set fire to social infrastructure facilities, as well as cars in crowded areas,” the department’s press release says.
According to the department, most of these would-be arsonists were told that they were involved in the operation to catch criminals.
The Russian government’s press office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment sent outside regular business hours.