If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is...
by Steve Lean
An overseas property scam story in the UK Daily Telegraph recently has highlighted, yet again, the need to be cautious when dealing with prospective ‘cash’ purchasers abroad and has prompted me to relate a similar tale that happened to us.
The Telegraph story concerned a lady who was selling a property in France and who had a buyer offer her more than the asking price over the telephone without ever seeing the house. (Alarm bells should already be ringing!)
This ‘buyer’ then sent her an international money order including an extra £12,000 to cover his ‘legal costs’ which he asked her to send on to his ‘lawyers’ once the money order had been credited to her account. Of course, as soon as the money order went into her bank and was shown as a credit her buyer was on the telephone constantly to transfer the £12,000 so as to ‘get things moving quickly’.
She, very wisely, refused to do this until the money was actually cleared into her account. It is not widely known that just because a money order or bank draft is credited to one’s account it does not mean that the funds are cleared. (This, I think, is yet another glaring fault of the banking system - but that’s another story.)
Sure enough, after the ridiculous wait of ten days the money order ‘bounced’ and her bank was very quick to remove the credit from her account. Her ‘buyer’ was never heard from again! Had she succumbed to the pressure she would now be a lot worse off. Fortunately she had the sense to wait and in so-doing foiled the scammers.
Our story is a similar scam but a very different method. We had a property for sale in Fuengirola, southern Spain last year and were approached by a man who was looking to buy investment properties in our area. He at least came to see the property and tried to look the part of the businessman that he purported to be. (Shame about the cheap suit and the ridiculous Panama hat!)
He went away to confer with his ‘business associates’ and said he would telephone us in a couple of days. This he did and, good news, he would like to go ahead and purchase our property. Unfortunately, because of his ‘business commitments’ he couldn’t come back to the house so could we meet him at his hotel in Torremolinos? At this point we had nothing to lose so off we went the next day.
We rang him as we got to the hotel and he was too quick to meet us on the pavement outside and suggest we go to a nearby bar to have a drink and talk over the deal. After a cursory attempt to haggle he agreed to our asking price of 455,000 euros and we shook hands on the deal. There were just one or two small details to work out!
Firstly, because of ‘tax reasons’, he would be making the purchase through a colleague in Belgium who would do all the necessary money transfers and sign all the paperwork. No problems so far, it didn’t worry us whose name was on the deeds.
Next he wanted to pay 200,000 by bank transfer and the balance of 255,000 by cash. Now, while this is not unheard of in Spanish property deals, that’s an awful lot of ‘black money’. We carried on listening.
Ah! But the cash he has is actually only in sterling so he would give us the equivalent in sterling plus 10% for our trouble. We’re starting to lose interest now but we kept him going.
Just one small problem. For tax reasons (again?) he can’t get to Belgium to pick the money up so could we go and pick it up ourselves and once we’re back in Spain with it he would make the transfer of the other 200,000 from his office in Monaco. He makes a point to remind us that he’s trusting us with his 255,000 euros in cash as a goodwill gesture to show he’s serious. We’re finding it hard to keep a straight face at this point.
The best he saved until last. His Belgian ‘colleague’s’ fee for processing the deal is 45,000 euros in cash but he won’t accept the equivalent in sterling because it would be too risky to change that amount overseas.
Our man then said that he would add this 45000 euros (plus 10%!) to the previous euro figures making a total amount of 330,000 euros to collect in pounds sterling (approx £235,000) and giving us a 32,500 euro profit over the asking price.
So if we could just take 45,000 euros cash (of our own money) to Belgium with us to hand over to this man, once he has handed over to us the 235-odd thousand pounds in cash of course, then everything will be tickety-boo! Believe me, he was quite serious.
By this time we had completely lost interest and just wanted to go and do something else. Anything else but listen to this idiot! We made our excuses and said we’d think about it over the weekend. I know it’s not funny but we had to have a chuckle on the way back to the car.
Sure enough, on the following Tuesday he was on the telephone asking when we would like to go ahead with the deal. But if we can’t act quickly he would move on to the next investment property and the ‘opportunity’ would be lost. I can’t recall what I said to him but I’m sure it had something to do with that old sailing term, ‘chucking anchor’!
I sincerely hope that no-one out there has had the mis-fortune to come across this odious little man and been taken in by his preposterous proposition.
In matters of property abroad, my only advice is this: Be alert, be aware and unless the money’s up front and sitting in your bank, don’t believe a word anyone says to you.
Especially sweaty, Monaco-based businessmen in cheap, ill-fitting suits.
Steve Lean is a writer, photographer and Spanish food nut. He lives in Andalucia, southern Spain and is the webmaster of Proper Spanish Tapas. Here you can find recipes, ingredients and “everything you ever wanted to know about tapas - the small plate with the BIG flavour!”
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