4 Mar, 2010 @ 11:41
4 mins read

Scammers beware!

IT could be the perfect crime reminiscent of one of Hollywood’s best heist movies.

Recently the Olive Press revealed how a British auctioneer, John White, organised a Marbella auction and collected valuable items from trusting expatriates, worth up to a million euros.

Yet, a series of bizarre events resulted in White being arrested amid claims that he had been kidnapped and robbed of all the precious goods in an audacious raid organised by ‘South Africans’.

It is indeed a murky case and the truth of what exactly happened remains unclear.

Was it a swindle or downright bad luck? In the scam capital of Europe it’s difficult to know.

The Olive Press has decided to take a whistle-stop tour of some of the greatest scams that have achieved infamy in Southern Spain.


The most notorious of all the Costa del Sol scams are timeshare swindles.

Offering trusting souls a holiday home normally for a one-week period every year, these timeshare schemes grew extremely popular during the 90s.

However, hidden charges and unforeseen loopholes often brought the original dreams of a Costa del Sol getaway paradise crashing down.

Timeshare was practically invented in Spain, and it took off massively in the Canary Islands and on the costas in the 1980s.

Cleverly sucking people in, often with the infamous scratchcards, where everyone’s a winner, thousands were conned every year.

Just under four years ago, one of the biggest ever police operations was launched against Costa del Sol timeshare scams.

The record-breaking swoop resulted in the arrest of eight people who jointly ran some 30 companies.

It was reported that up to 15,000 Britons were the victims of the gang run by a South African timeshare operator which raked in 18 million euros over five years.

The group, based in Fuengirola and Mijas, was estimated to have accounted for 90 per cent of all timeshare fraud on the Costa del Sol.

At least another dozen or more timeshare companies are still around. So watch out.

Resale Ploys:

One of the latest swindles is the offshoot of timeshare scams, known as resale cons.

These hustles are becoming increasingly popular as people look to sell their unwanted timeshares.

Disgruntled owners are contacted randomly by touts who ask for a registration fee in return for the ‘guaranteed’ resale of their timeshares.

Yet, surprise, surprise, the timeshares are never sold and the owners have parted with even more of their hard-earned savings.

Yorkshire pensioners Brian and Winifred Tillotson were conned out of 3,500 euros in a resale scam.

In 1992, they paid 2,300 euros for the right to use a brand new one-bed studio in Malta for ten years.

But they only stayed at the property once or twice and even swapped it for holidays in Portugal.

Over 18 months they were contacted by countless salesmen working for World Networking Sales (WNS), Secure Leisure and Montemar Estates – all based on the Costa del Sol.

Eventually the trusting pensioners parted with almost 3,000 euros in ‘fees’ in order to market their week.

Yet it was never sold. And they are still stuck with the timeshare that continues to cost around 200 euros a year to maintain.

According to Sandy Grey, founder of Timeshare Consumers Association, the scam has netted crooks 500 million euros so far.

Distraction robberies

Somewhat small-time compared to timeshare scams but equally as mischievous are distraction robberies.

Cock sure tricksters approach shopppers and distract them with an outlandish statement before swiping their valuables.

Maggie Armstrong, an 84-year-old pensioner from Elviria fell foul of a smooth talker shopping in Riviera some years ago.

Armstrong, from Surrey, explains: “A suave gentleman approached me with open arms.

“’My dear, just look up, look at the blue sky, watch the birds and enjoy!’, he proclaimed.

“I followed his gaze and did feel uplifted! But at the next shop I discovered my purse had been lifted!”

Another unfortunate victim was Ian Huggins who was duped in Calahonda.

“A ‘kind’ passerby told me I had bird droppings on the back of my shirt,” explains Huggins.

“But while helping me clean myself up he took my wallet.”

“The bird droppings were in fact chocolate sauce from a bottle.”

Express kidnappings

More associated with the mean streets of Mexico City in Latin America rather than the sun-bleached promenades of the Costa del Sol.

Yet, alarmingly, express kidnappings are appear to be on the rise in Southern Spain.

Masked man are snatching children and adults in well-planned heists that often result in big-money pay-outs before the police even get a whiff of what’s going on.

Recently, an express kidnapping gang which reportedly targeted wealthy businessmen on the Costa del Sol was broken up by Guardia Civil forces.

Some six people of Swedish, Spanish and Bulgarian nationalities were arrested.

Tragically, a British couple house hunting in Benidorm were kidnapped by two Venezuelans in 2002.

Anthony and Linda O’Malley, were forced to withdraw 30,000 euros out of their Spanish bank account during their week-long ordeal.

Mrs O’Malley died from the stress of captivity and her husband was murdered.

Pyramid Schemes

Outlawed in the UK, pyramid schemes continue to fester under the surface in Spain.

Inherently flawed in principle, these practices – also known as ponzi schemes – are still convincing scores of people to join up with the promise of riches.

In a bid to distance themselves from the bad reputation associated with their modus operandi, many also try to present themselves as legitimate multi-level marketing businesses.

And now, in the midst of Spain’s worst recession for 70 years – growing numbers are being persuaded to sign up for these schemes.

However, John Haig of the University of Sussex has also done the maths and concludes that it isn’t possible for everyone to become a winner.

Haig explains: “It’s completely impossible. You start off with one person who puts in 3,000 euros.

“To get 24,000 euros then you’ve got to find eight other people who’ll give them that money. At that stage you’ve got one winner and you’ve got eight losers.

“In the long run about 86 per cent of the people in this scheme are going to be losers.”

Male escort agencies:

THE small classified adverts in UK and Spanish papers offer the promise of thousands of euros to become a male escort. But the only place they are going is a date from hell.

Promised glamorous wealthy women countless men are apparently being sucked into a clever plot which guarantees just one thing – money loss.

On replying to the ad, they are told there are dozens of clients in their area. All they have to do is sign up and create an online profile costs costing between 200 and 500 euros.

However, there are no needy ladies and punters spend money on false hope.

A source, who has worked in a call centre in the UK, told the Olive Press: “One client paid more than 5,000 euros with the grand result of absolutely nothing.

“We kept on fobbing him off with excuses that he needed to fine tune his profile and he continued to hand over more money.”

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

Do you have a story? Contact newsdesk@theolivepress.es


  1. You missed the biggest scam of all, Jon. Sell a house to a person that has all the paperwork and then have it declared illegal later on, and lose your life savings. A scam perpetrated by lawyers, notaries, agents, bank managers, and developers who all are in collusion together most of the time.

  2. Well said Fred and how right you are What would the English Expats do without people like you speaking up for them its such a shame our MPs in the UK dont give a dam and just dont care We need someone like you Fred in N0 10 at lease you live in the real world and care for the English people who have worked most of their lives and paid their taxes and National Insurance and who have paid MP wages only now do we realize just how much we are left to get on with what is happening to the English living here and I do not believe we are being treated the same as the Spanish people and as for the Town Halls I could write a book just a little thing 8 yrs ago bought a apartment from the developers sold it 3yrs later and moved ,last week received a letter asking to phone a Town Hall and speak to a certain person who speaks English with being English and a little worried I did just that only to be told that after 8yrs rs I would now have to pay them 85eurs which the developers owed before we bought the apartment from them and of course YES he was Spanish but they said because he has moved out of the area where the Town Hall is we now have to pay it and we also live outside the Town Hall I now rest my case if we are treated the same
    Why is the EU doing nothing for us maybe if Spain were not to receive so much money from the EU they would put their house in order Equal opportunities I dont thing so in England YES in Spain NO


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