By Helen Pierpoint

TALK of psychopaths usually conjures up images of the Norman Bates character in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho.

It is less likely to create an image of a smarmy salesman trying to sell you a timeshare or dodgy investment scheme.

But many of these scoundrels operating in Spain display the character traits associated with psychopaths.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) recently sent an email to 77,000 people, many in Spain, warning them that they appeared on a so-called ‘suckers list’ used by boiler room bosses to target unsuspecting investors.

The people who use the list were described by the FSA as ‘ruthless, calculating and will stop at nothing to steal your money’.

This description bears remarkable similarities to the features of a psychopath.

Here, the Olive Press explores the ways in which the behaviour of unscrupulous conmen in Spain closely reflects those considered to be psychopaths.

The boiler room scammer

It is an all-too common scene: you’re relaxing in the bath, after a long day and the telephone goes.

A charming man asks you whether you are interested in investing in shares and the offer may sound enticing – leading to you being offered a discounted price or even a free gift.

But these cold calls are part of an elaborate and ruthless scheme to con people out of millions of euros a year.

And the shares they are pushing are either worthless or non-existent.

The boiler room scam costs British investors €220 million a year.

This type of fraud targets wealthy, middle-aged or elderly Britons from call centres largely based in Spain.

Victims of this fraud have in the past lost their life savings and even their homes with the average loss at a colossal €26,000.

That doesn’t stop the criminal masterminds behind the network of deceit squeezing every last drop they can out of prospective customers.

They may assure you you’ll have massive gains within 60 days – a promise broken thousands of times over with so many British customers.

These fraudsters are not even adverse to kicking their victims when they are down with many companies set up to offer boiler room casualties a way to recover their money for a ‘small’ fee of up to €600.

The money is pocketed and victims are sometimes left penniless.

The timeshare crook

Many victims of timeshare fraud will tell you their nightmare began with a call asking whether they would be interested in timeshare.

An equal number will have been enticed by the infamous ‘scratch card’ schemes, so popular in the big costa resorts.

But one thing in common, the salesmen sound convincing and will name-drop credible and highly official sounding companies, lawyers or estate agents that they are ‘affiliated’ with.

The bottom line is anyone making unsolicited calls, or approaching you in the street, should be treated with extreme caution.

In the 90s these predators took advantage of the property ‘boom’, conning 600,000 people into signing up to timeshares.

Victims only realised they had been scammed when they discovered these properties didn’t even exist or that the annual maintenance fee totalled sums in the region of a mind-bending €2,000.

These conmen are highly skilled in the art of persuasion – they deftly convince their ‘prey’ to part with their money, inventing a number of reasons to hand over your bank details.

They will offer legal, security or financial services and may even assure you they will transfer money into your account when in fact the reverse is happening.

In the past 12 months the Timeshares Owners and Committees Organisation saw a mammoth 180 per cent surge in complaints against these master manipulators.

The equity release fraudster

Thousands of Brits have also been defrauded by equity release scams .

These predators “are thieves…instead of climbing in through your window they gain your trust and simply walk through your door,” explains David Klein of the Costa del Sol Action Group, which receives up to ten calls a day from victims of equity release schemes.

“They become your best friend.’’

At the turn of the century, approximately 100,000 pensioners hoping to live out their lives in warmer climes moved to Spain, attracted by the low cost of living.

Yet as the fever of the boom waned and the cost of living increased, many expats signed equity release schemes allowing them to borrow money at the value of their homes to get cash.

The ‘advisors’ hoodwinked their customers into believing they would get a great return on investments of their loan but when the money ran out they would demand the money back.

“These rapacious financial advisers would use your loan to make high-risk investments…the higher the risk the more money they would receive as commission,’’ adds Klein.

The vultures would get a monthly pay-check of up to a whopping €65,000 while their customers were left up to their necks in a debt they could not repay.

How to spot a psychopath: 

•    CHARMING: They tend to come across as highly charming and funny

•    CANNY: They are extremely manipulative and will attempt to con you whenever possible

•    PRIVILEGED: They feel entitled to your money

•    LIARS: They are compulsive liars and will lie without hesitation to get you to part with your money.

•    RUTHLESS: They show no remorse or guilt when they hurt or trick others

•    CROCODILE TEARS: They understand and are able to mimic human emotions such as love if it happens to serve their purpose-none of these feelings are genuine

•    EDGY: They need constant stimulation and are unable to settle down for long

•    EMPATHY: They have no empathy for their victims

•    BLAMELESS: They are reluctant to take the blame for their crimes and will try and avoid punishment whenever possible

•    CONTEMPT: They feel that human emotions like compassion are signs of weakness

What you can do to protect yourself: 

•   If you’re buying or letting a property, trying to clear debt or securing a job, do NOT trust the negotiator’s charming smile and gift of the gab – their charisma may simply be a weapon deployed to trick you.

•    The ability to speak English does not exempt business people from having a heart of stone – do NOT go for the easy option – criminals use expats’ relief at finding an English-speaker on the Costa to gain their trust.

•    NEVER give personal details to companies that cold call you – the best thing you can do is put down the phone before they have a chance to manipulate you.

•    Do NOT believe yourself immune from being scammed – master manipulators are skilled in the art of rhetoric and often use your weakness against you.

•    NEVER respond to scam messages – if you do, you make yourself liable to receive a barrage of further messages.

•    Make sure you understand ALL the details of any deal you’re negotiating- it may sound great on the surface but will often have traps hidden in the small print.

•    If you suspect you are being scammed, use websites such as the Olive Press, the Costa del Sol Action Group, or the FSA, where you can find plenty of helpful information and advice about these sharks.

•    Always seek the advice of an INDEPENDENT lawyer or financial adviser before making any decisions you may regret.


  1. Always check who is licensed to sell financial products we have a list of registered financial advisors in Southern Spain on our website “” If they are not on our list this means they have no licence and will scam you.
    Remember whatever spiel they give you if they are not on our site, they are not qualified,they have no indemnity beware you have been warned.
    More information contact us at

  2. Whilst the spirit of this article is laudable, the section on timeshare is very unclear and I can’t see that it is particularly helpful. So let’s get the facts right: timeshare itself is not the problem, it’s companies that are not part of the industry that are targeting timeshare owners offering a variety of products and services such as class actions, bogus resale, holiday clubs or cash-back that timeshare owners should be on their guard against.

    To say that 600,000 people were ‘conned’ into buying timeshare in the 90s is wholly incorrect. That equates to every single British family that owns timeshare, and so in theory includes my neighbour who holidays with her husband and two kids every summer at the same resort in Portugal – and loves it, and my friend who’s just been given a gift of a week each year in Madeira – and loves it too! I could go on, but it’s a shame to read this, particularly as the vast majority of timeshare owners thoroughly enjoy their holidays.

  3. Hi Helen,

    I agree with Sue McNicol.

    Please, let me inform you about the ‘real’ sharks of the Costa del Sol: “”


    Alberto Garcia
    Director of Mindtimeshare
    Spanish Consumer Association

  4. I agree in the main with the article especially about the fact that there are many unscrupulous companies out there that prey on the greed of the general public but like Sue I cannot see that the timeshare part included in the article is very contructive or helpfull.
    I have owned timeshare for many years and have had some wonderful holidays through the use of both my ownership and the fact that I can exchange all over the world into some very top class resorts including Marriott, Hilton, Walt Disney and even Butlins ” that’s right Butlins!”
    The problem isn’t with the product it is with the cling on companies that try to con helpless people out of their savings by playing on the greed factor.
    I feel that the only good part about this article is the point made about not taking cold calls and not responding to scam emails and if you are still not sure then just do not respond at all. Timeshare Companies can always be checked out through going to either “” or “” and seeing if the company is recommended by either of these organisations if not steer clear.

  5. I also agree with the comment about the unscrupulous companies out there,which are minimal in comparision to the number of credible companies, most of which are affiliated to RDO. There are over 7 million timeshare owners worldwide, who still enjoy and use their membership and exchange facilities, and are highly satisfied with their purchase. With the laws changing, there are many wasy to check to see if a company is credible or not, and before clients give any inforamtion should check to see if the company is credible. We need to do our bext to crack down on bogus companies.

  6. DUH here all the time , people been fleece out 1000s of pounds OVER THE PHONE ….HELLO people shouldnt be so gulable normal people with brains only buy things they go out looking to buy …NOT from someone on the phone contacting them , its quite simple really …say not interested then hang up , and hang up again and again, SIMPLES, as you can make out im not very sympathetic am i .DUH .

  7. If anyone is too weak-kneed to hang up on intrusive callers, then they should subscribe to the Telephone Preference Answering Service. When that kicks in, you can be sure that anyone cold-calling is a crook. If you still talk to them, well, more fool you. In two years I’ve only had two calls of that nature and it’s great fun hearing the gulp at the other end when they are informed that they are breaking the law by calling.

  8. Greed is normally the reason why people invest with boiler rooms. The Boiler Rooms feed on the greed factor. In the 90s it was IPOs now it is Carbon Credits, all you have to do is look through the Sur In English on a Friday and you can see how many boiler rooms are operating on the costa del sol as they are always looking for more telesales staff.

  9. The time share issue apart – with all the info that’s available on the net why does anyone with at least half a brain working need to employ ‘a suit’ to ‘manage’ their money for them. The FSA – a big bad joke.

    The best person to look after your money is YOU. Never invest out of character – if you are a nervous person, invest cautiously – if you are young and a ‘dancer on the edge’ go for it’ if you fall on your backside, pick yourself up, laugh and move on. If you are retired and don’t have a thumping great pension you simply mus’nt take chances with what you have.

    Whatever you do at the moment do not lock yourself into investment contracts you can’t exit quickly from.

    Sadly most ordinary people don’t realise just how bad a shape the world financial system is in. However bad you think it is – it’s far worse.

    For the Brits we are almost certainly standing in line just behind France but first Spain and Italy must collapse first.

    Remember you don’t have to be a big shot to switch from one currency to another, we hav’nt had our capital in sterling for over 12 years now and with the massive personal and state debt in the UK I’d be really worried when the capital markets set there sights on the £ – now altogether say a big thank you to the bankers or as that well known Marxist/Leninist, Harold Macmillan called them – shysters.

  10. If you are not interested in purchasing a timeshare, do not attend a timeshare presentation! The free gifts are not worth wasting a day of your vacation, and putting your hard earned money at risk of being scammed by the timeshare salespeople. If you have already purchased a timeshare there are good articles on how to use timeshares properly.


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