The Spanish police have busted a massive British-run Timeshare scam on the Costa del sol that defrauded hundreds, if not thousands of British owners of timeshare property.
Adaptation and translation of an article published by El Pais.
The Spanish national police force has dismantled a criminal network conning British citizens with timeshare property in several locations on the Costa del Sol. So far 500 victims have been identified although investigators believe there could be thousands.
In the operation code-named Storm (Tormenta in Spanish), initiated eight months ago, 56 people have been arrested, all British citizens, with clearly defined roles within the organisation. It’s calculated the fraud has run to over €30 million since 2009 (netting the crooks between €5 and €6 million a year).
The swindlers operated via 11 ‘front companies’ used to hire telesales staff who would contact potential victims and make them an offer to buy their timeshare they couldn’t refuse. Telesales operators, working from offices along the Costa del Sol, were the lowest part of the pyramid identified by the police. Above them were the supposed frontmen, used by the group to open bank accounts in their name to pay in money from the fraud. These people allegedly received a commission (around €500) for their services, and answered to the ‘hitmen’ or ‘headhunters’ who were responsible for recruiting the strawmen and stockpiling the funds after withdrawing them from the bank.
At the top of the pyramid were the leaders of the scheme, the brains behind the fraud, and those responsible for passing on lists of the potential victims. The police believe there were three leaders (two are in prison for this). The big boss lived in Mijas, and the other two in Benalmádena. They all had a high standard of living, and a criminal record for similar activities. These people have been accused of laundering money through restaurant businesses and numerous transactions have been uncovered between the Costa del Sol and the UK. Bank accounts in offshore locations have also been found.
Inspector Mercedes Pérez Quesada, responsible for the second group of Economic Crime Unit in Malaga (UDEF/ Unidad de Delitos Económicos in Spanish), explained the different fraud methods.
The potential victims, almost all elderly people, owned a timeshare property, and were contacted by phone and offered the chance to sell their timeshare for an ‘attractive’ price. So attractive that hardly anyone said no. Once agreed, they were asked to put down money to cover the alleged contract, for example, for paying taxes. The amount swindled, depending on the case, varied between €300 and €50,000 per person.
The contract never materialised and funds were never returned. Then the second stage of the fraud went into action. The same network contacted the victims, acting for an alleged law firm, to propose a joint court case with other con victims. They were asked for money to pay for possible appeals and other legal procedures. In the third stage, the conmen made a call supposedly from the courts telling the victims that the court has resolved in their favour but they needed to pay a series of legal charges.
Almost all the victims, according to the investigators, fell for the con every time they were contacted. The investigation was started after numerous criminal complaints concerning the alleged fraud arrived through Europol, explained José Manuel Rando, chief of the Economic and Technological Crime Section (Sección de Delitos Económicos y Tecnológicos) in Malaga, who attended the press conference together with the provincial superintendent, Pedro Garijo, y and the government’s representative in Malaga, Jorge Hernández Mollar. Agents from the central UDEF have taken part in the operation that took place in February.
The move to arrest the 56 involved was carried out in two stages (in the first there were 38 arrests). Eight searches were carried out, and 78 bank accounts with €97,363 blocked. The value of the embargoed assets runs to €800,000. €30,061 was seized in cash, as well as a boat, six vehicles, 49 computers, a television, six mobile phones, a money-counting machine, paper shredder and a telephone switchboard. The members of the network have been charged with continuous fraud, false documentation, money laundering and belonging to a criminal organization.
Spanish Property Insight adapts and translates selected articles from the local press for the benefit of non-Spanish speakers.
This translation is based on the following article (in Spanish): Cae una red que estafó a 500 británicos con viviendas