A response from Darren Bobroff: We will be laying charges against Discovery Health

I recently blogged about Johannesburg lawyers Ronald and Darren Bobroff, who have fled South Africa for Australia, and according to South African media reports are facing charges of overcharging clients and related fraudulent activity.

Darren Bobroff has contacted me through the blog and made a comment/statement, which in the interests of fairness and balance I have posted below. You can also find it as a comment here.

Please also read this statement put out in January from Discovery Health in relation to cover for motor vehicle accidents and claims for the Road Accident Fund.

From Darren Bobroff:

Your article relating to my father and I is inaccurate and false. We charged our clients exactly what the law society permitted and so did all other personal injury attorneys. We were targeted by  health insurer Discovery Health.

We have never charged forty percent and the matter referred to was a straight hourly rate based on work done. This is a malicious tactic to defame us. We have never had a single finding of unprofessional conduct in the firms 40 year history. See our website at http://www.ronaldbobroff.com

We will soon be laying criminal charges against Discovery, their attorney George Van Niekerk and proxy attorney Anthony Millar.

(This response has been edited)

Col Hahne and Nene King: two riches to rags stories

1991:FILE PICTURE OF NENE KING;EDTOR OF WOMAN'S DAY

Nene King in her heyday

When the sad decline of Australia’s former magazine publishing queen Nene King made headlines again in February, it brought back memories of a former life, when I edited a mortgage broking magazine in Sydney called Australian Broker.

It wasn’t Nene King who trigged memories of those days, but mention of the man she was suing in County Court, Colin Hahne, a friend and former housemate, whom she claimed defrauded her of $40,000 and took advantage of her generosity, and whom she had tried to sue for a far bigger amount in 2013. (In the end Hahne, 46, was cleared of all charges).

I remembered, in about 2006, the rather sensational story that broke across the mortgage  industry, and which we reported in our magazine, of the rise and fall of a ‘Col Hahne’ an award-winning mortgage broker, who founded GAL Home Loans, a service specifically tailored to servicing gay and lesbian people seeking mortgage finance.

Founded in Melbourne in 2000, and inspired by Hahne’s own experiences of homophobia growing up the country town of Wangaratta, GAL Home Loans became a massive success, spawning offices in Sydney, Geelong, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.

In 2003, Col Hahne picked up a string of industry awards at the Australian Mortgage Awards, including Best Brokerage and Sales Person of the Year, after personally writing $90m worth of home loans. He was also named Operator of the Year in 2005 by the Mortgage Industry Association of Australia (later renamed the MFAA), the peak industry body.

Col Hahne and his mortgage broking business was flying, finding a niche in a crowded industry and striking sponsorship deals with gay and lesbian orientated Sydney Mardi Gras, Midsumma Festivals and Pride March Victoria.

In a 2003 interview with The Star Observer, Sydney’s newspaper for the gay and lesbian community, Hahne said he felt overwhelmed at winning so many mortgage awards – “I didn’t think we had a hope,” he said, as he talked about his passion for giving back to the community:

“I just feel that the more you throw back at a community, the more they’ll support you and the better it is for everyone concerned,” he said.

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Col Hahne wining his MIAA award in 2005, expelled in 2006.

Then just as suddenly as his career had surged, it came to a crashing halt. In July 2006, GAL Home Loans and Col Hahne were expelled from the MFAA after an independent tribunal found GAL Home Loans had breached its code of practice.

The MFAA did not disclose the reasons for his expulsion, but it soon emerged that Hahne was being sued by the organisers of the Sydney Mardi Gras over an alleged breach of a three-year sponsorship deal.

GAL Home Loans collapsed in 2007 and a court-order to wind-up the company and appoint a liquidator was made in 2011.

So what became of Col Hahne? Was he the same Colin Hahne, who became a close friend of Nene King, whom she referred to as her ‘nephew’ and whom she lavished cars, watches and other gifts.

The answer is an unequivocal yes. They are the same person.

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Col Hahne leaving court in February this year

It appears that soon after his business collapsed, Col Hahne met Nene King when he began dating massage therapist Larry Sutcliffe, who smoked marijuana with King.

In her court testimony, King said Hahne told her how he had had 13 companies (the once high-flying mortgage broking businesses) which went bust and that he had no money. She agreed to let him move in with her and Mr Sutcliffe.

The couple moved into King’s Caulfied home in Melbourne South Eastern suburbs, where, according to reports she had lived as a recluse since 2003 having suffered the tragic loss of her husband Patrick Bowring to a suspected shark attack in 1996 and then battled a drug problem and depression.

The trio became a “family unit” as she showered the gay couple with expensive gifts, noting at the trial that Hahne had told her he was a “financial wizard”.

“She continued to pay all the bills for both men before her money started running out and she had to take out a mortgage on her home,” The Age reported.

“We became great friends and I trusted them totally,” King said at the 2013 trial.

Hahne was found not guilty of all 49 theft and deception-related charges, with the court accepting his explanation that he had an arrangement with Ms King to use her credit cards and always did so with her authority.

As the trial near its end, King, who was once the richest woman in publishing having turned around Woman’s Day and made Kerry Packer a small fortune yelled out at Hahne calling him a “ghastly liar”. Later, in an interview, she claimed she was broke.

As for Col Hahne, he left the courtroom after the trial making no comment disappearing into another life, with the media interest squarely focused on his much more famous former friend, the once wealthy and powerful “paper giant” (Made into an excellent ABC movie).

In the end, it was Nene King very sad riches to rags stories that got all the headlines. But  Col Hahne’s own rise and fall as a high-flying mortgage broker, is also worthy of telling, and just as intriguing.

Who really was Ben Zygier? Reading Rafael Epstein’s ‘Prisoner X’

prisoner x‘Prisoner X’ by journalist and ABC radio presenter Rafael Epstein investigates the life and death of Melbourne man Ben Zygier, who committed suicide in a top secret cell in Israel’s Ayalon Prison in  December 2010 and whose sensational story made headlines in Australia and around the wold.

In 2013, Zygier, a lawyer and father of two from a well-connected Melbourne Jewish family, was sensationally revealed on the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent programme to be’Prisoner X’ the Mossad agent who betrayed Israel.

My interest in reading Epstein’s excellent book came out of a conversation with a fellow journalist, Patrick Durkin (@patrickdurkin),  a former lawyer, who had done articles with Ben at the law firm Norton Rose in 2001.

Patrick mentioned that when news broke that Ben Zygier was ‘Prisoner X’ in early 2013, he had hastily written a story for the Australian Financial Review, the newspaper we both write for, titled “Prisoner X, My Melbourne lawyer friend”

It may have been written in haste, but it was deeply moving and renewed my interest in a story I had, for some reason, not followed in great detail when it made front page headlines.  Patrick wrote that the revelations of who Ben was sent a “shock wave” through his group of lawyer friends.

Ben had joined our group of 20-odd articled clerks halfway through the year. Most of us remember him as a serious young man who was largely aloof from the rest of our tight-knit group… News broken by ABC’s Foreign Correspondent of Ben’s jailing and death is as shocking as it is surreal. (Patrick Durkin)

Rafael Epstein also knew Ben Zygier, at a much earlier time in his life, and like Patrick struggled to digest how he ended up in such a predicament in solitary confinement in a maximum security Israeli jail.

Epstein was Ben’s mentor in a Zionist Youth Movement called Netzer in the late 1980s when he remembered Ben  as a “cheeky, warm, quietly spoken boy”.

I have a photo of Ben from this time…it is the same smile and blue eyes that stare out from the photo of Ben flashed around the world’s media two year’s after his death. (Prisoner X, Rafael Epstein)

Epstein’s motivation to write the book was to correct the impression created in the mainstream media that Ben was either a “zealot or a traiter” by shedding some light on who Ben really was and, also, to try and solve the mystery of what really happened.

According to Epstein’s carefully drawn picture – based on numerous interviews with people who knew him  – Ben Zygier was by all accounts  a well-liked, quick-witted, intelligent man who would have made a very good lawyer.

But unfortunately, he also had none of the traits necessary to become a master spy for Mossad, Israel’s revered and feared spy agency: he was emotionally unstable, his behaviour was sometimes unpredictable, he could be grandiose and boastful and crucially, he could not keep a secret.

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Ben Zygier on the front page of The Age newspaper

One of the key revelations in the book is Epstein’s fervent belief that Ben’s downfall was not – as reported in the mainstream media – due to a rogue mission to the Middle East where his attempts to turn a Hezbollah agent into an Israeli double-agent, backfired sensationally.

Instead, Epstein claims, it was things Ben said to a mysterious Iranian man among Ben’s circle of friends at Monash University where he had returned to study in 2009 that led him to a solitary cell in Ayalon Prison.

According to Epstein, Ben’s fragile state of mind caused him to betray his secret life to the wrong person.

Ben’s mistake was a simple one and lacked the determination and intent that has been suggested in the media…put simply, Ben said too much to the wrong person at the wrong time. (Prisoner X, Rafael Epstein)

The other key insight from the book is that it provides a convincing case that Ben’s death was suicide, despite the initial suspicions when he was found hanged in a supposed suicide-proof cell. The truth appears to be that Ben died because responsibility for his care was mishandled by the security services and the prison officials, because no one did their jobs properly in ensuring his well being and because, by the end, Ben had lost all hope.

Indeed, a sense of profound and unnecessary tragedy is what rings most loudly in reading Epstein’s book; that Ben Zygier, who came from a well-connected and loving Jewish family, who had a loving wife and two kids, who was well educated, smart and likable, could have lived a successful and happy life.

Tragically, he chose the wrong path and was then encouraged further along it, by people who misjudged his character.

Of course there still remain all those unanswered questions: who exactly did Ben tell his secrets to? What were they and why did he become Israel’s most dangerous prisoner? These questions Epstein cannot answer, though not for lack of trying.

Predictably, after I finished reading Prisoner X, I watched the two riveting Foreign Correspondent documentaries (you can find them here) and read numerous articles published at the time about ‘Prisoner X’ and Ben Zygier searching for clues. But as one former spy put it on Foreign Correspondent, we are likely to ever know the full story.

I also had another chat with my colleague Patrick.

He told me that his old law friends had recently met for reunion drinks.Ben, he said, had inevitably come up in conversation as they reminisced about their days at Norton Rose.

According to Patrick,  the group remembered how Ben would be quiet and not really participating in the conversation, and then suddenly say something that grabbed everyone’s attention: like the time he told the group he had killed someone while serving in the Israeli army.

“That was Ben.”

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Deep inside Jo’burg: a review of ‘Lost and Found in Johannesburg’ by Mark Gevisser

lost and found in johannesburgLost and Found in Johannesburg: a Memoir‘ by South African journalist and political writer Mark Gevisser is one of the most engrossing and exciting books I have read about my home town, Johannesburg.

It is a vivid memoir of growing up in Johannesburg as a white, Jewish, gay man during the very darkest days of apartheid.

The memoir begins with Gevisser’s remembrance of his childhood in Sandton, one of Johannesburg’s elite northern suburbs and his obsession with maps.

Sitting in his father’s Mercedes Benz, he would play a game called ‘dispatcher’ where he would randomly look up someone in the Johannesburg phone directory and then using the Holmden’s Street Map of Greater Johannesburg, the map book of the time,  navigate an imaginary courier to their address.

On one occasion, he tries to navigate to Alexandra, the impoverished, densely populated black township neighbouring Sandton and finds that using the Holmden “there was simply no way through”:

Even now, I can recall my frustration at trying to get my courier to his destination in Alexandra: there was no way of steering him from page 77 across into page 75. Sandton simply ended at its eastern boundary, the Sandspruit stream, with no indication of how one might cross it, or even that page 75 was just on the other side.

This illogical and deliberate attempt by the map makers to separate white Johannesburg from its enslaved black population becomes the starting point for Gevisser to explore the artificial boundaries, restrictions and cruelties created by apartheid – and also how they were broken down.

One of the great pleasures of reading Lost and Found in Johannesburg is Gevisser’s inclusion of dozens of fascinating photographs, some from family albums, but also images of a lesser known side of Johannesburg (for people like me anyway, who had such sheltered childhoods).

A photo that stands out strongly is that taken in the 1960s of the suburban backyard swimming pool of Bram Fisher, the Afrikaner lawyer who would represent Nelson Mandela at his Treason Trial.

In it, we see a group of kids, both black and white “splashing about the pool, as one does in the suburbs on a summer’s afternoon”. This was of course during a time when the races were strictly segregated and yet Fischer and other liberal types flagrantly flouted these rules. Gevisser writes:

Through this poignant idealism, [Bram Fischer] seemed to be trying to reconcile being a white pool-owning South African with the egalitarian ideology to which he had given his life.

Other images depict that familiar, yet never-quite-understood relationship between white people and their black domestic workers. Gevisser includes a photo of himself as a boy in the arms of a black lady who stares back serenely as white children play around her. In another, taken on his parent’s wedding day, he describes the black man in the photograph, the chauffeur who stands to attention, only his cap and uniform visible among the celebrations.

These pictures depict the everyday divisions between master and servant we accepted as children, but hardly thought to question.

Who were these black people who took care of us as children, drove us around town and cooked our meals? What were their lives like? In his memoir, Gevisser seeks answers.

Reading the book and studying the photographs, I remember well, the  pungent smells of meat and mieliepap and the exotic aromas of balms and lotions that came from the rooms of our own domestic workers across the yard when I would visit occasionaly.

It’s one of many vivid memories Gevisser’s memoir stirred up.

Indeed, I spent much of the book, enveloped in a warm, but painful feeling of deep nostalgia, a credit to the quality of Gevisser’s prose, which flows mostly effortlessly throughout the book mixing memoir with history and geography and storytelling with journalism.

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The Old Cemetery at Braamfontein

But, Gevisser also describes places I never knew existed like the eerie underground archives at the Johannesburg Library, where Gevisser writes about the old underground mining maps that crumble in his hands, or the Old Cemetery at Braamfontein, where he is “seduced by the voluptuous beauty” of its paved pathways, low stone walls and mossy tombstones reminiscent of famous cemeteries like Highgate in London or Pere Lachaise in Paris.

It came as shock to me when I realised the Old Cemetery was across the road from where I parked my car almost every day, whilst attending Wits University in the 1990s.

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The Wilds, in the heart of Jo’burg

The other important place Gevisser explores (which I have never set foot in) is ‘The Wilds’ a 40 acre indigenous botanical gardens  wonderland plonked in the middle of the city that sadly became a no-go zone because of its reputation as the hideout of criminal gangs.

For Gevisser  it takes on a deeply personal and terrifying meaning, because it is from The Wilds that three men climb a fence on a summer’s evening in January 2012, and enter a fourth-floor apartment building where he is watching  television with his friends. Then a brutal, but all too familar attack unfolds at gunpoint.

He writes of the ordeal:

Something seemingly irrevocable changed that night in my relationship to Johannesburg, my home town, the place I lived for four decades, the place of this book.

It could easily have turned Gevisser, as such incidents have done to many other white and black South Africans who have been victims of its appalling crime rate, into a hater, and his memoir, a journey into bitterness.

But, it does not. In fact it does the opposite.

Gevisser’s journey to understand the elusive city of his birth – from its earliest foundations as a gold mining bonanza, through its decades of segregation, cruelty and political activism to its status as place of economic opportunity  – is a deeply compassionate one.

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For more on what’s interesting about Jo’burg, read my blog post: Why you should drop the fear and visit Johannesburg

 

 

99 Homes (and the devil): an interview with director Ramin Bahrani

still_241851Hollywood director Ramin Bahrani describes his acclaimed film, 99 Homes, about the post-GFC housing crisis and the millions of people forced out of their homes, as a ‘Faustian – deal with the devil’ – tale.

But it’s not Faustian in the sense that many movie-goers might interpret the central plot, that of evicted homeowner Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) who goes to work for the man who foreclosed his home, corrupt, gun-toting real estate broker Rick Carver (played by the enigmatic character actor Michael Shannon).

Rather, according to Bahrani, it’s the housing system itself which is Faustian, creating unscrupulous characters like Carver, who we see in the film manipulating government and banking rules at the expense of struggling home owners to make himself rich.

“[Carver] is not such a horrible person, he is just doing what he needs to do to survive,” Bahrani told me.

“The devil is the system. It is a corrupt system.”

Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon playing opposing characters in 99 Homes.

The are of course parallels to Australia with its unscrupulous property spruikers and their get-rich-quick schemes, a housing and tax system that seemingly favours the cashed-up older generation of owners and investors at the expense of young buyers, and where tales of windowless apartments in high-rise towers and students living in tents or on bathroom floors abound.

According to Bahrani, this corruption extends beyond housing and into the wider financial and banking system, noting that both Australia (Malcolm Turnbull) and New Zealand  (John Key) have prime ministers who were former investment bankers.

“The banks were fined millions [in the wake of the financial crisis], but nobody went to jail. But if you stole a carton of orange juice, you would go to jail.

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“The people who are responsible for bankrupting the world got away with it. Nothing has changed”.

To research the film, which opened in Australia this week (November 19), Bahrani spent many hours in foreclosure courts watching the corrupt system at work as families lost their homes in snap judgements that took less than a minute

“It’s not called the rocket docket for nothing,” he said.

One day in court he observed a Hispanic family that needed an interpreter. “The judge said he had no time for an interpreter and dismissed their case – they lost their home.”

But Bahrani says the film is not about picking sides.

Researching material for the film in 2012 and 2013, Bahrani witnessed both side of the brutal US foreclosure system: the middle-cass families living in motels and the school buses that would pick up their kids from these motels as part of their morning routes, but also the sheriffs and real estate brokers “terrified about who would be on the other side of the door, when they evicted them”.

He says he did not set out to deliver a sermon or pass judgement about the real estate industry or real estate brokers but instead wanted to explore both sides of home ownership – the home as a place of “safety, community and memory” or in the case of real estate agent Rick Carver just a commodity to be “bought and sold”.

For those in Australia fruitlessly or frustratingly pursuing the housing dream or, alternatively, enjoying the riches that housing investment can bring, the parallels in Bahrani’s movie are obvious.

This article first appeared on afr.com

How to be young and rich in Australia: be a man

How do you become young and filthy rich in Australia?

The short answer is: be a man.

Yes, be a tech whizz, a property tycoon, a retail visionary, a sports star, but most importantly, to steal a line from Canadian stand-up comedian Russell Peters, BE A MAN!

How do I know? The latest BRW Young Rich 2015, a compilation of the 100 richest Australians under 40, which came out in October, had just eight woman on it.

The all-male Top 10

2015-brw-young-rich1Source: BRW.com.au

Of those woman on the list, just four – singer Sia Furler, founder of financial counselling service My Budget, Tammy May, super model Miranda Kerr and golfing star Karrie Webb – have made their fortune entirely on their own.

The other women on the list have made their fortunes in partnerships with men: Erica Baxter through her marriage to billionaire James Packer, Erin Deering, through online bikini company Triangl founded with her husband Craig Ellis; Melanie Perkins, who set up online graphics software company Canva with Cliff Obrecht, and Michelle Strode, who co-founded technology company Invoice2go with her husband Chris.

So, making it on your own as a woman is even tougher. Having a bloke by your side helps.

I remarked about the lack of woman on the BRW list to a number of people and got pretty much the stock standard answer: woman don’t become ultra-wealthy because they are off having babies etc etc.

The truth is for all the talk in Australia about gender equality in the work place; not penalising women who want a career AND a family; lifting the proportion of women in senior position; and equal pay for men and women who do the same jobs – we still live in a very unequal business environment, where men earn the big dollars and women are expected to give it all up when they have children.

There are of course exceptions, the likes of former Westpac boss Gail Kelly, Mirvac CEO Susan Lloyd Hurwitz, and in government, deputy prime minister Julie Bishop.

But, mostly there remains the old-world misogynist view of women not rising too high in society, displayed most strikingly and distastefully in the 1423545120130attacks on Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard called a ‘bitch’, and  ‘witch’ by mostly middle-aged men in politics and the mainstream media. Julia Gillard was also judged by society – both men and women – for not having children, as if that was some kind of heinous crime, not merely a valid life choice for any woman.

This unequal belief system – that men should be the big earners, the stereotypical ‘providers’ – extends into all realms of Australian working life: I was flabbergasted to read recently that the basic contract for an Australian woman representing the national soccer team, the Matildas, is just $21,000 a year, two-thirds of the minimum wage.

This is a team, ranked 9th in the world, who beat Brazil at the World Cup this year and reached the knockout stages.

By contrast, regular members of the mens soccer team, the Socceroos, have each earn more than $200,000 so far this year, despite losing every game at the last World Cup and being ranked a lowly 65th in the world.

It’s does not surprise me at all that the Matildas have gone on strike, demanding fairer pay.

In the property industry, the sector I cover as a journalist, gender is a big, emotive issue.

Property has traditionally been a very blokey, boy’s club industry, though it’s true that efforts are being made to encourage more women into the industry, and also that there have been some notable successes in this endevour.

But still, the property industry remains dominated by outrageously wealthy men as can be seen by the number of young male property tycoons on the BRW Young Rich List  (I counted five) and the complete absence of any women property tycoons.

Supermodel Miranda Kerr

Supermodel Miranda Kerr

The other point about the type of women who make it onto the BRW Young Rich List needs to be made delicately.

In short, looks definitely matter.

This to me, only reinforces the “Crocodile Dundee” image of Australia as the land of “Bruces” and “Sheilas”, that was circulated around the world in the 1980s and later reinforced by cringeworthy iconic Australians like the late animal entertainer Steve Irwin famous for jumping on to the backs of wild animals in true Aussie macho style

While it is true that there is much that is progressive, modern fresh and exciting about Australia, it still retains a distinct air of male chauvinism and a strong underlying current of conservatism (gay marriage is another area of distinct inequality).

Real wealth and power in this country, remains in the hands of blokes, now, and, given the make-up of latest BRW Young Rich List with its tiny female representation, will remain in their hands in the future too.

Sad to report, another rich relative in Spain has died, leaving me a small fortune

IMG_0318Mr Thomas Schlesinger, a distant relative of mine and his poor wife died in 2010 on the Barcelona Motorway, writes his personal attorney, the barrister Alejandro Gomez (Esq) of Lanx & Associates, (located at 42 Arc del Teatra, Barcelona) in a letter that arrived by post last week, dated September 14.

Before his death, Mr Gomez writes, Thomas deposited $8.5m in the Spanish Finance Bank, but tragically did not make a will.

All efforts to trace Thomas’s relatives have been ‘abortive and a mystery”.

Rather than risk having the funds confiscated, “as according to Spanish Inheritance Law on article 101-102 amendment”, Mr Gomez has kindly offered to present me (L Schlesinger) as the next of kin of Thomas Schlesinger, who I am told was a “formal contractor/engineer” at mining giant BHP Billiton” to share the $8.5m with him, minus 10 per cent to go to “some charity organisations”.

Because of his personalities (of which I assume there are multiple) Barrister Gomez writes and says that I should keep the matter “secrete and confidentiality as our primary working conditions” but that I should email him at his private address, or phone or fax as soon as possible “to ensure the success of the project”.

As I pondered the words of Mr Gomez, I reflected on a double tragedy: almost three years ago I received another letter from Barrister Mateo Pinto from Madrid to inform me that another distant relative of mine ‘Albert Schlesinger’, an oil magnate who lived in Spain for 28 years died with his immediate family in an “auto car accident on the Damascus Highway in Syria in December 2004”.

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The 2012 letter informing me of Albert Schlesinger’s passing

Sadly, he too had not left a will (it must run in the Schlesinger family on our Spanish side: car accidents and not writing wills) leaving US$9.6 million unclaimed in a vault at the Madrid Central office.

So much death, yet so much unclaimed money…

I have now received two letters from Spain at two different home addresses (I moved house in 2013).

The only thing genuine thing about them are of course the charming Spanish stamps and postmarks on the envelopes.

The latest letter has a lovely one euro stamp depicting Felipe the Sixth, the current Spanish monarch, in a red-brown tint.

The first letter had two stamps: a 35 cent stamp depicting the back seat of a car with a teddy bear and a 50 cent stamp of a red ship of some kind.

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So the scammers have spent 1.85 euros (A$2.92) of their own money, trying to get me to give them thousands of mine.

I haven’t given them a penny and it seems hard to believe that anyone else would fall for this scam. But they do, and in droves.

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The September 2015 letter

According to the Australian government’s Scamwatch website, losses for the first seven months of the year from ‘inheritance scams’ – as these are known – total $4.43m from 2500 reported cases, making up roughly 10 per cent of the $45m lost to scams of one sort or another.

“Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to get your money or personal details. Scams succeed because they look like the real thing and catch you off guard when you’re not expecting it,” writes Delia Rickard from the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission

But surely only greed, naievety or stupidity – perhaps a combination of all three – can be driving people to divulge their personal information and lose tens of thousands of dollars to people like “Alejandro Gomez” (For an explanation of how this scam works, click here.)

While the posted letter, stamps and postmark adds an air of authenticity and the letterhead has an actual address (Arc del Teatre in Barcelona does exist) there is no firm called Lanx & Associates.

BHP Billiton, is of course a real company, but never employed a Thomas Schlesinger, who never deposited money into the Spanish Finance Bank, because no such bank exists.

As for Alejandro Gomez, no such barrister is currently practicing in Barcelona according to Google, though there is an Argentinan football player and a Columbian tennis player with the same name, so maybe the letter writer is a sports fan.

And type the name of his “law firm” Lanx & Associates into Google and you come up with consumer forums (like this one) packed with people telling identical stories about letters from lawyers in Spain.

Greetings from Germany. My new best friend Barrister Mark Torres Esq. (Spanish Lawyer and Doctor in Law) located at Calle Velázquez 53, 28001 Madrid Tel.: 00-34-692-838-947 barristermark.torres@lawyer.com, wants to share 7.5 million euros with me, left by a person with the same surname who died in a car crash in 2004.
Anyone want to take up the offer?
I am glad I wasn’t in Spain in 2004. It seems to have been a catastrophic year for accidents!