Police arrest 56 people and calculates a fraud worth more than 30 million euros
The National Police has dismantled a network dedicated to defraud British citizens with homes in timeshares in several towns on the Costa del Sol. So far, 500 victims have been identified, although investigators suspect there may be thousands. Code named “Operation Storm” , which began eight months ago, led to the arrest of 56 people, all were British nationals, with well-defined roles within the organization. It is estimated that since 2009 the fraud has exceeded 30 million (between five and six million a year).
Scammers operating across 11 front companies, hired telemarketers who contacted by telephone potential victims to try to sell an “attractive” product difficult to refuse.
These workers, placed in offices throughout various points on the Malaga coast, represented the lowest level of the pyramid that the police have identified. Operating above the workers were the suspected front men, used by the group to open bank accounts in their names in order to receive the money coming from the fraud. These people allegedly received a commission (was around 500 euros) for services rendered and were accountable to the “crushers” or “collectors” following the slang of the investigators, who were responsible for recruiting these men of straw to supply the funds after withdrawal from the banks.
On the top step were the ringleaders of the plot, and the brains behind the fraud who were in charge of facilitating the list of potential victims. Police found that three leaders (two have been sent to prison for these acts). The most prominent of them resided in Mijas and the other two in Benalmadena. All enjoyed a high standard of living and had a history of similar activities. These people are accused of laundering money through a catering business and numerous movements of money have been identified between the Costa del Sol and the UK. Offshore accounts have also been located.
Inspector Mercedes Pérez Quesada, head of Group Two of the Economic Crimes Unit of Málaga, explained the different types of fraud. Potential victims, mostly elderly, were owners of timeshare property and telemarketers offered them the right to repurchase with a right to a shared use of the property at an attractive price. So much so that almost no one refused. When they agreed, they were asked for money up front to cover the execution of the contract, for example, to pay taxes. The amount defrauded ranged from approximately 300 to 50,000 euros per person.
The deal never materialised and the amount was not returned. Then it arrived on the scene the second level of the scam. The same network contacted the victims on behalf of an alleged law firm, to propose a class action with other people who had been defrauded. Again a request for money was made to cover the potential costs of the process and other legal proceedings. In the third part, they made an alleged fraudsters call from the court informing that there had been an oral hearing resolved in their favor, but it was necessary to pay a series of court fees.
Almost all victims, investigators stated, fell into the trap every time they were contacted. The investigation was initiated after numerous complaints of this alleged scam was received via Europol, explained José Manuel Rando, head of the Economic Crimes Section and Technology of Málaga Provincial Brigade, who appeared next to the provincial commissioner, Pedro Garijo, and the Government Sub in Malaga, Jorge Hernández Mollar. In the operation, developed in February, participated agents of the Central Economic Crime Squad of the Central UDEF.
The operation to arrest the 56 involved was developed in two phases (first there were 38 arrests). They carried out a search of eight registers and blocked 78 bank accounts and 97 363 euros. The value of the seized goods amounted to 800,000 euros. Also seized were 30,061 euros in cash, plus a recreational yacht, six vehicles, 49 computers, television, mobile phone and six terminals, a machine for counting bills, a shredder and a switchboard. The crimes that members of the network are associated are continuing fraud, forgery, money laundering and organized group membership.