You should make a coffee, because this is a long story!
We had an email forwarded to us by a friend, who was concerned that she was being scammed. She lets out her property and falls foul of the story I wrote recently about illegal property letting.
The email was from an organisation calling itself COLA – Canary Owners Legal Action campaign.
It purported to come from a group set up to support people who face heavy fines for illegal letting. It talked about €18,000 fines, with up to €300,000 fines for second offences. It was filled with subliminal images showing people with their heads in the sand. The solution offered was to join them and pay between €100 and €500 to do so.
They told readers they had employed a company to send out “Robot spiders" to find out where and when people were likely to be fined, and they promised to “hold your hand, step by step through this minefield."
In short the email was full of psychological tricks and turns that felt somehow scammy, and at the same time strangely familiar. My writer’s instinct was telling me I had seen this style of writing before.
I decided to investigate.
The website, and the one representing the “Detective" firm COLA are using are both registered to a lady in Colorado, USA. That seemed odd. When I looked further at her, she seems to be running a respectable business in the US with no connection to The Canaries or the internet world. I’ve contacted her, because I suspect her identity is being used without her knowledge, and that’s why she isn’t yet named in this piece. Once she’s replied, I’ll update this post.
I then contacted COLA direct and told them I was writing a piece about them and would like to know some more about the organisation in order to provide a balanced piece. Once again, the writing style rang a distant bell in my mind.
The reply told me I’d need to wait a couple of days as it was important for the secretary to discuss with the other executives how much about themselves they are prepared to reveal. It went on to say:
Similarly we are not Americans, we work, for the protection of our people, inside a US company, in a state where what we are doing is wholly legal, and in fact encouraged (e.g. wiki leaks). We do that only because we are wholly effective in showing people how to avoid the law of the Canary Islands, in a similar situation to providing people with devices to avoid speed traps (only on a bigger scale of fines avoided). Whilst those who sell speed trap avoidance devices ARE said to be breaking the law, those who use them ARE NOT (and it is the same with drugs!).
By this time, I was very curious. Everything I had seen was screaming “Scam!" at me. The tone of the original email, the strange connection to the United States, the fact that payments for membership were going to an LLC in the US and above all the suggested need for secrecy.
I dug into the email to try to see who it had come from, as no names were used.
At first glance it appeared to have originated in Chicago. Digging deeper I could see it had been sent from a Movistar user here in Spain.
And then I cracked it!
Through all the disguises and proxies, the person who had written it had forgotten one thing.
To rename his computer!
The email had been sent to me by a computer that’s called “GuatizaPC."
I instantly knew why the writing had been familiar. Simon Harris, who ran the notorious Quill Wills lives in Guatiza.