Food fraud: UK tourist scam version

Lucia Bohorquez of El Pais writes an investigating judge in Palma de Mallorca has lifted the seal on court records entered in the case of a scheme that may have cheated Spanish hotels out of as much as €60 million through phony food poisoning claims filed since 2014.

British law firms promised clients up to €18,000 and a 98% success rate in claims for gastric illness caused by the hotel food. The lawyers kept 60% of the payout, and the remainder was enough to cover the client’s entire holiday package costs. Clients were sent to them by a ring operating out of Mallorca, where “sales agents” were deployed to hotels in search of targets.

From January 2016 to the end of the summer, one hotel chain received 273 claims requesting compensation for 700 people

The Spanish Civil Guard arrested seven members of this ring, all British nationals, in September of last year. The suspects allegedly exploited lax British legislation by persuading hotel clients to file phony food poisoning claims against their tour operators.

Faced with high legal fees if the cases went to court, the tour operators would accept the claims, then pass on the cost to the Spanish hotels as per their contract, in which the latter accept responsibility for all damages.

The investigation was launched after several hotel groups filed police complaints. These hotels had hired private detectives who found that there was a network of agents sent out to hotels to persuade clients to file claims.

A Civil Guard report that shows up in court records mentions two individuals as the heads of the ring. These men operated out of Britain, where they channeled the claims through law firms “with low professional ethics.”

Back on Mallorca, the local leaders were two women – a mother and daughter – whose job it was to hire agents and train them to persuade hotel clients to simulate gastric illnesses. These agents were always native English speakers who dealt directly with their targets at the hotels.

Civil Guard officers followed the activities of the ring and found that it was also active on the island of Tenerife, where it made around €115 for every successful claim. One of the women would routinely drive to the hotels to supervise her agents, especially in Sa Coma and Puerto de Alcúdia in the north of Mallorca.

The ring was also active in Tenerife, where it made around €115 for every successful claim

All seven arrested ring members kept in touch through a WhatsApp group called “UK Holidays claims,” where they shared their clients’ names and addresses, contact information, holiday reservation number, checkout date and the best time to call the client back in the UK. Each agent added his or her name to the message, to ensure that they would get the commission.