Monday, July 08, 2013

Smells Like Double Dip

A dear friend of mine passed away several weeks ago. His cancer had been diagnosed only in March of this year, so it seemed merciful that his suffering was not further prolonged. His wife – they had been together for fifteen years – was, and remains, distraught, and turned to me to sort out all the financial matters and laborious paperwork.

Most of it has been straightforward. Only one matter has caused difficulty, having me sad one minute, raging the next. The two of them bought a timeshare several years ago from what she assured me was a ‘reputable timeshare company’. A blatant contradiction in terms, you might be thinking. Over the past decade, they enjoyed all-season holidays in Andalucía, and I suppose they always tried to make the best of a dubious deal. What I did not know is that, after they had received the tragic prognosis from the hospital, they were approached by a ‘seemingly legitimate’ firm offering to sell the timeshare for them – and it already had a potential buyer. The firm demanded 600 up front; but the alarm bells failed to ring. No proper selling agent either expects, less still demands, payment prior to completion. It was, of course, a simple scam. The ‘business’ was found to have operated from false addresses, and its owners will by now have disappeared into the night. I learned of it only after my friend’s death. He was a gentle soul, always giving others the benefit of the doubt (Figure 63.1).

Figure 63.1: My friend’s lack of cynicism was his Achilles’ heel.

Copyright © 2013 Demand Media Inc.

Shortly after the funeral, his wife – I dislike the word ‘widow’ – told me that she had been contacted by a Spanish law firm investigating timeshare fraud, and that it would apparently cost nothing for them to pursue the matter on her behalf. I collected the entire documentation last week but, before I had found time to digest it, she had been contacted several more times by the ‘fraud-busters’. Each time, however, she explained to them that I would be dealing with all matters henceforth.

My first reaction was that lawyers do not come free, nor cheap, nor anything other than ludicrously, unjustifiably expensive. (The old joke that they do not look out of their office windows in the mornings because it gives them something to do in the afternoons does hold an element of truth – and yes, I have worked for a law firm.) Secondly, given Data Protection legislation, how did they find everything out? Thirdly, such cold-calling is illegal under Spanish Law.

So I phoned the firm, which is based in Málaga, and spoke with the person responsible. As I suspected, only the initial consultation was free. There would be a 1000 retainer; costs would pile up in typical lawyerly fashion; and, naturally, there would be a less than perfect chance of recovering any money. I told them cold-calling was illegal and threatened to report them to the Consejo General de la Abogacía Española (Spanish Law Society). There has not been a squeak from them since.

Sadly, there was more to come, from yet another cold-caller with my friend’s details from heaven-knows-where. This time I shall name the company. It is Milestone Data, supposedly based in London. I checked the address they provided: 145-157, St John Street, EC1V 4PY. This is registered to a company called London Presence, a (presumably) legitimate business which, for as little as £15 per month, provides mail-redirection services to clients who are, self-evidently, nowhere near London. Furthermore, Milestone Data is not registered at Companies House. (This is the British government’s Registrar of Companies which requires, by law, annual submissions, all of which are made publicly available.) I told them, in no uncertain terms, to back off.

Something else has since occurred to me. If a client has been tricked once,  cold-callers with inside information would logically assume that he or she might fall for a follow-up ‘double-dip’ scam, particularly if the second firm offers to track down the first set of crooks and make them pay, on the basis of ‘your enemy’s enemy is your friend’. Such a premise is dangerously unsound. Moreover, who is to say that the first scammer and the second are not in cahoots, or even one and the same?

My friend belonged to a different age. His wife can scarcely believe the unlawful depths which fellow humans will plumb in the name of financial gain. They were a good match, both born way after their time to a world becoming increasingly devious, and shameless, in its criminality. I do not expect it to improve (Figure 63.2).

Figure 63.2: El escritor escribiendo. So long, MMB. I shall keep my word.

Copyright © 2013 Paul Spradbery

Copyright © 2013 Paul Spradbery

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