A particularly common scam that has been doing the rounds in Tenerife for several years is the Timeshare Reclaim Scam. Numerous clients have historically been mis-sold Timeshare or Holiday Points products. Some have paid money for products they never received or couldn’t use, whilst others have lost their money when the Timeshare Company has closed down, often under dubious circumstances.
At a later date, such clients may receive a phone call, letter or email from someone claiming to be from a law firm acting in a legal action against the relevant timeshare company or perhaps against its former directors. They will say that the court has successfully frozen or recovered assets, against which affected clients can now claim for refunds of the monies they originally paid/lost. The sales pitch is that they require a fee upfront (typically court fees or taxes) in order to process the claim on your behalf and recover you a substantial sum of money.
The caller (or the correspondence) is typically very convincing and in the first instance, appears to bear the proper credentials. A convincing website, email and phone lines are often set up. However, in almost every case, once the fee is paid across, the law firm mysteriously disappears into thin air and its phone line and emails suddenly stop working. Clients then realise that they have been scammed.
However, the scams do not stop just with fake ‘lawyers’. Even some supposedly legitimate companies advertising to release you from legitimate timeshare contracts are no better. The truth is that unless you were mis-sold the timeshare product or there is some other legal irregularity with the contract, it is essentially valid and there is no ‘official’ way of getting out.
However, the reality is that of the thousands of timeshare customers each year who simply stop paying their maintenance fees and walk away, we do not know of a single case of the timeshare company ever taking the customer to court. There are various reasons for this. In most cases, the timeshare company is located overseas and know they would have difficulties getting money out of a customer in a foreign country. Often, they are worried about the legal enforceability of their murky contracts and do not want to give any judge the opportunity to critique it and set a bad precedent. However, we suspect it’s as simple as the timeshare company refusing to pay their lawyers a substantial amount amount of money upfront for legal and court fees that they might never recover.
So whilst the above is simply our layman’s opinion and should not be construed as legal advice, the reality appears to be that if you simply walk away from your timeshare and stop paying the maintenance fees, the timeshare company is very unlikely to ever take action against you. And the reclaims companies offering to ‘release’ you from your timeshare contract for thousands of pounds in fees know this all too well, but are still happy to take your money.
So how do you tell whether a Lawyer / Abogado contacting you is legitimate?
Well first and foremost, no genuine lawyer is ever allowed to ‘cold-call’ a client, whether by phone, letter or email. If you are contacted by telephone in the first instance and did not request the call in advance, then you can safely assume that the caller is not who they claim to be and is probably working some type of scam.
Secondly, ask yourself where did the caller obtain your details from in the first place? As with most EU countries, Spain operates strict Data Protection laws. No genuine lawyer would have legitimate access to a list of former clients of a private timeshare company. The more likely truth is that the caller obtained your personal details from an illegal source. In most cases, you are being contacted by the original timeshare scammers themselves. A classic case of ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’. At best, they are separate scammers who purchased a list of potentially disgruntled clients from the timeshare company that robbed them in the first place. Such lists are rather insultingly known as ‘suckers’ lists’, on the basis/belief that if a client could be ripped off with a dubious product in the first place, there is a good chance they could be conned a second time with a reclaim scam.
For those still not sure, a search should be carried out against the lawyer’s credentials at the web links below. The contact details for the lawyer should then be cross-referenced against the lawyer’s website (all reputable lawyers dealing with cases as large as timeshare reclaims will have some form of website in operation) or against the number that you were cold-called from. The firm’s name may also come up on one of the many websites naming and shaming the more prolific scamming firms (just google ‘timeshare reclaim scams’ to find them). Also, does the law firm have a working Spanish office landline number (beginning with a ‘9’), or just a mobile number (beginning with a ‘6’ or ‘7’)?
Genuine Spanish lawyers ‘Abogados‘ must be subscribed with the principal registry and governing body for all registered lawyers in Spain (Abogados) is the Consejo General de la Abogacia Española based in Madrid.
Their members’ search facility covers all of Spain. However, it only includes Spanish qualified Abogados and not Registered Foreign Lawyers (Abogado Inscrito) who have re-registered their foreign lawyer titles to practice in Spain:
In addition, each lawyer must also subscribe to their local College Bar Association, of which there are 83 throughout Spain (Colegios), one for each region. For Tenerife, this is the Colegio de Abogados de Santa Cruz de Tenerife (www.icatf.es). Each College regulates the activities of their members and sets out a code of conduct together with other regulations. Disciplinary action will be taken against Abogados who break the rules. Each Abogado also has compulsory Professional Indemnity Insurance in place in case a client needs to make a claim.
In order to search for a Registered Foreign Lawyer (Abogado Inscrito) one must search with the specific College Bar Association for the region where the lawyer practices (e.g. in Tenerife), as opposed to the Abogacia.es national database search above.
For all lawyers based in Tenerife, there is a search facility here:
Clients should also be aware that the Spanish courts will not allow a lawyer (or Procurador) to proceed with a court claim on behalf of a client without a specific form of Power of Attorney (‘Poder de Pleitos’) to be signed by the client.
A genuine lawyer should also request a copy of the client’s passport, proof of address and possibly additional documentation in order to satisfy I.D. and Anti-Money-Laundering obligations. In the case of the scammers, most will ask for nothing more than payment of a sum of money upfront, which should therefore ring alarm bells.
Timeshare reclaim scams are not the only scams run by fake lawyers. Other common scams include:
1. You are told that some distant unknown relative has passed away and you are the only beneficiary under their Will. Payment of probate fees or taxes will be requested to facilitate the release of your inheritance.
2. You are informed that you have won the Spanish Lottery (despite never having played it). A tax or admin fee is required to process your multi-million euro payout.
3. You are contacted in order to handle a large sum of money through your bank account in exchange for a generous handling commission fee (the notorious Nigerian email scam).
4. You are contacted regarding a car you advertised for sale. They are intermediaries with cash buyers waiting, but they require an admin fee upfront. Or you are trying to buy a private car and the buyer’s lawyer contacts you directing you to pay the money directly to the lawyer’s account.
The above list is far from exhaustive and evolving scams are limited only by the scammers’ ingenuity and imagination.
Moral of the story? Never part with any money until you have 100% satisfied yourself as to the authenticity of the caller and/or the transaction, even if you were not cold-called.