S ometimes you can do everything right, and still have something go disastrously wrong. When the calamity is nothing more than a missed bus, or a morning gone awry, it’s possible to let go of the frustration with a philosophical shrug. But if you just lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, that’s a lot harder to do


The Players

Names: Shaul and Sarah Weinblum

No. of Children: 10

Ages: 49 and 46

Place of Residence: Bnei Brak 

The Lure

Convenient Banking, but better exchange rates. What could go wrong?

The background

Collecting repayment from a recalcitrant debtor seems like it ought to be pretty straightforward: Reuven owes me $10,000, he refuses to pay it, I hire a lawyer, take him to court, the judge rules in my favor, and all’s well that ends well.

If only it were so simple.

Every lawyer can tell stories about his clients: the ones taken in by convincing con artists, the ones who neglected to read the contract terms… but also the ones who did nothing wrong at all. They had airtight contracts in simple dealings and assumed their lawyer would get their money back.

Unfortunately, beis din and court proceedings are rarely cut and dry, says Yosef Daskal, a Jerusalem-based real estate lawyer with ten years of experience. A good opposing lawyer or to’en rabbani can muddle the facts, and a host of other things could go wrong to thwart the expected victory.

Even if you win your lawsuit, you could be confronted with a bigger problem — collecting on the judgment. It’s up to you to run after your money; beis din and the court won’t do it for you. Yes, there are legal means at your disposal to go after the debtor’s assets. But if there’s nothing there, then it doesn’t matter that the courts agreed you were owed that money — you’re not going to get it.

In Israel, any citizen burdened with crushing debts has the right to open a file with Hotza’ah Lapo’al, where the agency will review his financial situation and determine how much restitution he can afford to pay. Based on their conclusions, his debt will be consolidated and likely reduced significantly.

Say, for example, someone owes you NIS 100,000, out of a total consolidated debt of NIS 1 million. Hotza’ah Lapo’al determines he can afford to pay a total of NIS 200 each month to retire his debts. Your share of that monthly NIS 200 will be a grand total of 20 shekel, about $5.71 per month at current rates. So you can expect it to take quite a long time — 416 years, to be exact — to get your money back.

If the delinquent is in such dire straits that he files for bankruptcy, then his slate will be wiped clean completely — all his outstanding debts will be erased (except for certain exemptions, such as child support). You can say goodbye to your money then and there. If you can somehow prove that you were swindled, then you can still have some legal recourse to recoup your money — but in many cases, cautions Daskal, this is extremely hard to document.

If he’s adept enough at hiding his assets, a devious deadbeat might not need to declare bankruptcy. In that scenario, finding where he socked away all the money is extremely difficult. Even in the case where he squirreled it overseas to a country that has a treaty with your own, you still need to hire a lawyer in that country who can oversee the process of discovering and recovering your assets. It’s a lengthy and expensive ordeal, and success is not at all guaranteed. And if in the meantime the money has been spirited away to yet a third country, or deposited under someone else’s name, then your legal costs spiral while the chances of success dwindle.

Unfortunately, many victims have endured years of heartache and stress, not to mention large financial outlays, in their effort to recoup their funds. Even if they do end up getting some of it back, they’ve already spent at least that much already in legal fees. And the emotional fallout is even worse.

“Even if they choose not to go to court because they don’t have the resources to invest in the process, these people suffer terribly,” says Daskal. “They’ve lost all their money, often they’ve lost their relatives’ money as well, because they convinced them to join in to this ‘no-fail investment.’ And if they do go to court, it can be terrible to meet the person who swindled you out of all your money, and encounter his self-confidence, his utter callousness.”

In short, handing a large sum of money over to someone in exchange for a promise can lead to drastic, life-altering consequences. Such is the story of Shaul, who now wishes he’d deposited his money in a conventional financial institution. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 701)