Friday, February 29, 2008

 

Here be Monsters...

There is one thing that we are all to find out – sooner or later – when living in Spain. There are lots of rip-offs. Beyond paying a bit too much for a coffee, or an extra euro fifty surcharge for a brick of orange juice at the gas station, the main cons and scams are usually something to do with our ‘fellow foreigners’.
It’s so easy. ‘Hello, are you English? Me too! I speak the lingo and can show you around…’ Blah, blah.
I have been helping to distribute a magazine locally called ‘The Costa del Sol Action Group Magazine’ with its ‘Sharks Exposed’ cover. The magazine was started by a few people from down Marbella way who were ripped off some years ago by conmen calling themselves ‘financial advisers’. You sometimes see them advertising in the free press.
My favourite from the early nineties was the ostrich farms scam where you bought an ostrich for 48,000 pounds and waited for the eggs to hatch. I asked the Madrid Zoo at the time as to the going rate and was told that a pair of ostriches would cost around 600 pounds. Some people lost their shirt.
But gained some feathers.
If the reward sounds too good, then it probably is a con. Fairly obvious stuff perhaps, but the salesman seemed so nice, so sure and after all – you have to stick with your own; watch out for those Spaniards – they’ll skin you alive! Quite!

The magazine touches on some (but not all) of the Costa’s best-known financial fraudsters. That it can do so is because the editors have the appropriate proof – usually letters from the government’s financial watchdog, the CNMV – together with letters and complaints from local (often British) residents. Of course, it’s hard to sue here in Spain (takes years), is harder still when it's foreigner against foreigner (takes more years), is expensive as hell and is largely useless anyway.
As an example of the last piece. Mike Metcalf – now known as Michael Home of Royal Marbella Estates – operated a company called Eurosol back in the mid eighties in Mojácar. He would sell houses and neglect to pass on the deeds. In one case, he sold a house to John G in around 1987, and sold the escritura to someone else called Helen. I knew John and since he didn’t speak Spanish, I helped him over the years. Firstly, I found that John, Metcalf and Helen were all using the same lawyer! Then, after a long struggle to take the case to court, John G finally won his case against Metcalf in 1998 and was awarded his costs (around 48,000 euros) in an Almerian court, albeit losing the title to the house while gaining life-possession, and saw his wife die from the strain. Metcalf – who got a six month suspended sentence – has yet to pay John a penny of the money he was ordered to hand over.
So much for Spanish justice.
Cases rarely get as far as this. One must consider the time and the expense, plus the option of the scammer making a ‘quick departure’.
Lawyers aren’t allowed to do a ‘no win - no fee’ deal (of course, they sometimes do).
If you are being robbed by a non-Spaniard, and if things start to look bad for them, they can always 'do a runner'.
‘Scairdy Paints’, the major second-hand car dealer, scarpered a few weeks ago. A well-known local estate agent looks about ready to do the same thing. Rumour has it that he is actually going to Brazil!
It is indeed curious that there aren’t more whistle-blowers about. Especially now with the Internet. Most ‘forums’ won’t touch the subject of libel for fear of being sued. They don't need the hassle. On the other hand, try suing from Spain an Internet provider, with a Korean address…!
One such property forum, having presumably received various threats, has a famous ‘sticky’ which reads ‘All discussion of MacAnthony Realty International (MRI) is strictly forbidden in this forum. Posts that do not even mention the company by name, but refer to it in some other way, are also forbidden, and will be removed’. (Spanish Property Insite)

The Costa Action magazine deals in this edition with (some issues which have since been resolved 28 feb 2010), Donald Nott, unlicenced financial advisors and the truly awful ‘asset release’ scam which is doing the rounds and preys on the elderly and so on. There is some small reference to property companies – such as Palmera Properties – but as I was distributing copies in Albox saying something like ‘it’s a magazine about financial fraud’, one Englishman took a copy and answered ‘they should have a go at the estate agents’.
Many large estate agents are indeed in trouble. Viva Estates has closed all but one office. It is one of several companies that fly you out, escort you around, sell you something hot and take anything up to a 25% commission. You may have seen their cars.
The British Home Office (Ministerio del Interior) actually got involved in one case, a company called Oasis Properties had been scamming so many people that the Home Office asked the Spanish police to arrest the owner of the company and sling her in jail. In 2004, Audrey Dixon was incarcerated in Malaga for fraud. However, you can't rely on the British authorities taking an interest in your case. They won't.
Spain is currently in the shit for its 'land grab', its expropriations, its demolitions, rule-changes, land reform, illegal urbanisations and so on. The Spanish seem largely unaware of this self-damage. Unfortunately, no one will bail out the unfortunate victims. They are toast.

You can see the magazine on http://www.costa-action.co.uk/

Some other groups can help. Those that commit fraud don't like the light, and naturally the British press is always interested in writing up the 'dangers' of Spain...
Also very useful are Abusos Urbanisticos - NO , the Spanish Property Scandal Petition , Illegal Villas Spain , Corruption in Spain and of course, you can cheer yourself up with the famous detective Larry Kovaks P.I. at http://kovakspi.blogspot.com/.
The Comisión Nacional de Mercado de Valores, which lists unauthorised financial advisers in Spain, is at http://www.cnmv.es/ .

Edited. Feb 28 2010


Comments:
Lenox,

Do you think you could drop me a line at colindavies@terra.es so that I can raise something with you. Ta.

C.
 
Despite having received a few indirect threats from some of the companies mentioned, we do publish what we can after consulting with lawyers. (Admittedly we had to remove a couple of posts after threats to innocent parties from MRI) Provided you are publishing fact, and not instigating heresay (which many forums do unfortunately) most of the time you can publish the facts quite easily.

We anticipate some very substantial announcements shortly regarding the property industry given the current climate.
 
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