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!

An unexpected letter arrives from Spain

A letter arrived in the mail this week affixed with two colourful ‘Espana’ stamps and an two ink marks baring the words “Barcelona” and “Correos La Campania de Todos” (The Spanish post office).

The stamps cost 35 euro cents and 50 euro cents each.

The letter was addressed to “L Schlesinger” with my home address printed on top and began with an apology for this “unsolicited” correspondence.

“My name is Barrister Mateo Pinto of St. Mary of the Head 15, 28045, Madrid Spain. I got your contact information through the Australian public records while searching for the last name similar to my late client.”

His client, now deceased, was ‘Albert Schlesinger’, an oil magnate who lived in Spain for 28 years and who died along with his immediate family in an “auto car accident on the Damascus Highway in Syria in December 2004”.

The letter went on to detail how there was US$9.6 million unclaimed in a vault at the Madrid Central office and that he was seeking out a relative that shared the same last name as his client.

Having found me, he was willing to share the spoils – though 60:40 in his favour.

Still, I’d come out with a cool $5.76 million.

All I had to do to get the ball rolling was send him a fax or email, but he also provided a phone number though he suggested the first two means of correspondence for “time difference and confidentiality reasons”.

But I better hurry because, according to Barrister Mateo Pinto there is only “three months final notice from the safe keeping firm to present a beneficiary to the vault” or the money would be “forfeited to the Spanish authorities” – something that he “forbid happening”.

The letter was signed with an indecipherable signature and clearly a photocopy.

Obviously, this is a scam and not a very convincing one despite the effort to create authenticity with the posted letter and stamps (and perhaps also playing the part of the greedy lawyer by demanding a 60: 40 split in his favour).

I did some Google searches anyway to placate my curiosity.

The street address on the letter does not exist.

The only Albert Schlesinger of note I could locate died in San Francisco in 1993. His New York Times obituary says he was a civic leader and “founder of one of the largest automobile dealerships on the West Coast”.

There is no Damascus Road, in Syria, though there is one mentioned in the Bible.

And as for Barrister Mateo Pinto of St. Mary of the Head, there is an architect of that name residing in New York and a legal case in the Philippines involving a ‘Mateo Pinto’ who leased a fish pond, but that’s it.

Of course even without the help of Google, there are holes in the story as wide as the Grand Canyon.

For instance: why does he say he comes from Madrid, but posts the letter in Barcelona, on the other side of the country?

And what lawyer would look to give 40% of $9.6 million to someone he’d never met just because they shared the surname of their client?

I found many similar examples with almost the identical plot structure, including one on the Australian government’s SCAM watch website from a Spanish lawyer, whose client had died in a car accident with the recipient offered the  chance to share in $22 million, (though in this letter, the lawyer is more generous willing to share the spoils 50:50).

Does anyone actually fall for these silly scams?

Still, it got me thinking about the person who gone to the trouble of buying the stamps and posting this letter half way around the world in the hope that I’d reply and presumably end up handing over my bank details so that he can steal from me.

Somewhere, in Spain, probably Barcelona, there is a guy posting letters to all the Schlesingers he can locate in overseas phone directories.

Why did he pick Schlesinger? Well there are some very wealthy Schlesingers I believe, sadly I am not one of them, so perhaps that’s why he picked the name. Perhaps he’d also considered the more famous Oppenheimer, Getty or Rothschild surnames for the name of his fictitious client.

I imagine the scam artist hunched over a computer in some darkened flat in a non-descript suburb on the outskirts of Barcelona. The printer whirrs and buzzes as it prints out letter after letter. He bends down, picks up each letter and has a cursory look over it to check it’s printed correctly, folds it neatly and slips it into an envelope. He licks the stamps and presses them onto the envelope firmly. Later, when he has a big enough pile, he heads off late at night, walking along quiet streets, a cigarette dangling from his lips (don’t all villains smoke?) and drops the letters into the nearest mail box, looking around suspiciously as he does so in case someone has finally tracked him down. Then he disappears down a narrow lane, finds a cheap bar that stays open late, orders a beer, finds a seat in the corner, where he sips his cerveza, lights up another cigarette, puffs out a cloud of smoke and dreams up his next scam.

Or perhaps he’s some 16 year old nerd with pimples and a computer.