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Police in Russia have detained a group of fraudsters who swindled unsuspecting victims out of $60,000 in a scam which included one of them passing himself off as UFC veteran Alexey Oleynik.

Three men were detained after using messaging apps to make bogus requests for money from figures in Russia including famous big cat circus trainer Edgard Zapashny. 

A post shared by Эдгард Запашный🇷🇺 (@zapashny.ru) on Feb 16, 2020 at 3:58am PST

According to Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk, the conmen acquired the contact details of famous people before masquerading as their friends to request the urgent transfer of funds.  

“As a result of operational search measures, the Moscow Criminal Investigation Officers located the suspects and detained three men in the cities of St. Petersburg and Vladikavkaz,” Volk said, according to TASS.   

“There is reason to believe that the defendants may be involved in the commission of more than 30 such illegal acts. The preliminary damages exceed 4.5 million rubles ($60,000).” 

Edgard Zapashny – one half of the Zapashny brothers, well-known in their homeland for their circus performances with big cats – was scammed after someone contacted him claiming to be his friend, UFC veteran Oleynik, who is based in the US. 

A post shared by Alexey Oleynik (@alexeyoleynik1) on Sep 4, 2020 at 7:08am PDT

A post shared by Эдгард Запашный🇷🇺 (@zapashny.ru) on Jun 27, 2020 at 4:36pm PDT

MMA fan Zapashny revealed to his more than 500,000 Instagram followers back in April that he had been stung to the tune of 50,000 rubles ($660), after the fake Oleynik asked for money to help his sister. 

Zapashny discovered he’d been fleeced when he later called the fighter himself to check that the request had been genuine.

“I only have myself to blame,” Zapashny wrote at the time, urging others not to fall for the scam.