SPAIN’S National court has taken over the investigation of a long-term holiday rental scam.
At least 300 tourists have been conned by the phantom rentals scheme around Spain over the last few years.
The majority were tourists from northern Europe, with at least 100 cases taking place in the Balearics alone.
In total, the scammers, believed to be based on mainland Spain, pocketed at least €600,000.
Most of the money came from deposits paid for holiday rentals when unsuspecting punters visited bogus websites set up by the conmen.
On some occasions, as reported by the Olive Press, victims even turned up at their holiday homes to discover they had been duped.
They included British rugby league international Dean Schofield and wife Gemma who together with a group of pals forked out an incredible €50,000 for a six bedroom luxury villa in Mallorca.
Gemma told the Olive Press: “We were very angry when we found out. It was a horrible moment and we did not know what to do.”
Another victim was Lucia Myers. She and husband Peter forked out nearly €3,000 to a fake website last year for a villa rental in Mallorca. Lucia turned detective in a bid to get her cash back and traced the payment to a bank in Granada, eventually identifying Alvaro Lopez Uribe as the recipient of the money. He was eventually sentenced to six months jail after she made multiple trips to Spain to testify against him.
She told the Olive Press: “The authorities in Spain don’t seem to take this very seriously. To my mind this is a big crime. How much money has been stolen from innocent people?”
As in the Myers’ case, a group of hackers managed to clone the websites of several travel agencies to undertake the latest scam.
They often took the details of individual homes and hijacked contact numbers.
Using a series of websites, including Palmasur and Mallorca Letting, they cleverly seduced clients into parting with large sums of money as deposits for holidays.
The money was sent to a series of bank accounts in Valencia, Madrid and Castellon.
It comes after hundreds of denuncias were filed with police stations around Spain.
There were so many victims it was agreed that one Valencia court in Requena would amalgamate all the claims into one case four years ago.
But now – with over 300 victims – the court asked the Audiencia Nacional to step in as it had become ‘overwhelmed’.
A judge this week agreed to take on the case in Madrid given the ‘extremely serious damage caused to the confidence and image’ of the Spanish tourist industry.
Alarmingly the victims are certainly not the only people scammed over the last decade.
The Olive Press has reported on and knows of many other cases, which have fallen under other jurisdictions, or not even been reported.
Last year, a 24-year-old Ecuadorian was arrested in Alfafar, in Valencia, accused of taking over €6,000 from various bogus rentals in Menorca and Mallorca in the summer of 2019.