Scam Warning
Our Guide to Scams and Rip-offs in the Canary Islands

Electronics Shops

For as long as I can remember, the small South Asian-run Electronics shops* in the main Resorts have been ripping-off tourists. There are one or two exceptions (Visanta have a good reputation), however, for the most part, these shops should be avoided.
Over the years, I’ve heard of numerous techniques that they employ, with some of the most common ones as follows:

  • Salesman will show the customer fake catalogues or websites that list the Camera/Tablet/Camcorder at a very high price – illustrating the ‘bargain’ that they are offering.
  • Salesman offers to gift-wrap the item, and then substitute it for a brick/cheaper item. The customer only discovers the scam when they arrive back in their home country.
  • Because the store’s credit card machine is ‘broken’, the salesman disappears next door with the credit card, where they clone it. The next thing you know, you are paying for somebody’s flights in Malaysia.
  • Customer gets charged multiple times because the first card machine returned an ‘error’.
  • Customer pays for the bargain tablet/laptop, however the store needs to upgrade the system or change the language before you can take it home. When the customer shows up the next day to collect the item, there will have been a ‘problem’ with the upgrade. Despite the issue, the store will be unwilling to refund the cash, but somehow manage to persuade the customer to shell out even more money for a ‘superior’ product or upgrade (I never really understood how they manage this).
  • General high-pressure sales tactics, including crowding around the customer to prevent them easily walking out of the shop.
  • There are numerous reports of the products being ‘fake’. In truth, I’m not sure if they are counterfeit or just soundalike brands designed to fool the very uninformed consumer.
  • I have read accusations online where the victims claim that they were ‘drugged’ (It’s hot, would you like some water?), though this may well be a rationalisation to avoid feeling foolish..

The authorities have finally started to clamp down on these shops – but only when the Banks that supply the credit card machines noticed suspicious activities.
*Before anyone starts calling me a bigot for mentioning the ethnicity of the owners of these businesses, please read the rest of the article, where I single out other groups (including my own) for their roles in preying on visitors to the islands. I did wrestle with the idea of omitting the ethnicity, but came to the conclusion that it is pertinent.

Holiday/Vacation Clubs

The so-called Holiday Clubs were born in response to increasingly stringent regulation of the Timeshare industry, which allowed a cooling-off period where consumers could back-out of deals. The unscrupulous salespeople behind the timeshare scams, started selling memberships to Holiday Clubs instead. Although, regulators continue to update the legislation, the Holiday Clubs are constantly evolving to stay one step ahead.
In a nutshell, a Holiday Club membership is a means to relieve you of several thousand pounds, and give very little, if anything, in return.
In practise, it goes something like this:

  1. You are approached by a young British person with a free scratch-card (they are sometimes Irish, or German, if the area is popular with Germans). They may even claim to be performing a survey for the Tourist Board – complete with some official-looking credentials.
    At this stage, they start casing the victim using flattering sales techniques, “You look like a 5 star hotel type of tourist, am I right?” and striking up a rapport as a fellow countryman as they go.
  2. To your surprise, the scratch card turns out to be a winner! All you have to do is go to their office and listen to a presentation.
  3. At the presentation, a slick salesman will present their pitch promising to save you vast sums of money on the many luxury holidays that you are going to enjoy in the coming years. All for an upfront payment, the first part of which will shortly be taken using your credit card. The amount of money will vary according to the assessment made while looking you up and down, and any other clues that you have inadvertently provided about the size of your bank account.
  4. When it comes to booking your bargain-priced luxury holiday, you discover that you can actually get a better price on the same holiday from a regular travel agent or website and that you have basically handed over £10,000 for nothing.
  5. At this stage you are very upset, and decide to go looking for your money back (which was guaranteed in some way).
  6. You do not get your money back. The End.

Real Estate Scams

Many people have lost money while attempting to buy Holiday Homes in The Canary Islands. Often, nothing intentionally dishonest has occurred, such as when developers go bust during the construction phase. However, sometimes, unscrupulous agents have simply stolen their client’s money. In many cases, the same unscrupulous sales people that worked in Timeshare and Vacation Clubs have made their way into Real Estate, attracted by the huge commissions (5%). So it should come as no surprise to find similar rip-offs involving Property transactions. If you are planning to purchase a property, make sure that you use a good lawyer, and not just the one that the Estate Agent has recommended.
Here are a few of the horror stories that we’ve heard about over the years:

  • Giving power of attorney to your Estate Agent (or their crony Lawyer) can be a risky business. I have heard of Agents who held power of attorney for both the buyer and seller, and used it to transfer the property to themselves first, and then sell it on to the buyer – taking a huge profit for themselves in the process.
    e.g. The Agent convinces the Seller that their property is only worth €60,000 and then uses his power of attorney to transfer it to himself at that price. The unscrupulous agent then sells it to the buyer for €100,000, pocketing €40,000 in the process. Neither party realises what has happened, and may never discover the truth.
  • When applying for a mortgage, make sure that you get a proper TAE – an official quote listing exactly how much you will pay. Bank Managers have promised customers low interest rates and enticing conditions, only to change the conditions in the Notary at the last minute, at which stage it is too late to look elsewhere. In truth, it’s been a number of years since I heard about this one, so hopefully it does not happen anymore.
  • Be cautious when being offered “Guaranteed Rental Income for X Years”. Could it be that you, the buyer, are paying for that guaranteed income up-front, hidden inside an exaggerated purchase price?
  • Several people have lost deposits when the Estate Agent has run off with the money that had been deposited in a client account. One notable case, in Lanzarote, involved an agent that would instruct clients to make transfers to pay taxes and other fees, but would instead pocket the cash. In the end, the agent was prosecuted and sent to prison, but the clients remain out-of-pocket.

Buying a property can be a minefield for the foreign buyer, and we will be examining this subject, and some of the nefarious tactics employed by Estate Agents in a future article.

Goldcar Car Rental Rip-off

At this end of the scale, we are into rip-offs rather than actual illegal activity. The Rent-a-car firm, Goldcar, has a particularly bad reputation, employing the following technique to extract the maximum profit from its customers:

  1. Goldcar offers a particularly low headline price to entice customers into making a booking, usually through a broker or comparison website (so customers are often unaware that they are renting from Goldcar).
  2. Upon arrival in the Airport, the customer will face a particularly hard-sell, employing scare-tactics, to push additional insurance cover. These scare-tactics are not unfounded, since you will be charged the full excess if they find even the tiniest scratch.
  3. The customer will also be informed that they have been charged for a full tank of petrol, and that they should return the car empty. This tank of petrol will cost significantly more than at nearby Petrol Stations.
  4. Upon returning the car, a tiny scratch will be found, for which (if you didn’t accept the very expensive additional insurance), you will be charged hundreds of euros in repair costs. Fear not, if the car is returned with no damage, as you may well be charged €150 for “cleaning”.

While Goldcar are exceptionally bad, the major multinational firms (the big names) aren’t much better, and their staff often receive commissions for finding any scratches or damage on the returned car.
 
So, which Car Hire companies are any good? I have been using Cabrera Medina/Cicar (a Canarian Company) for years and have never had an issue. I also hear good things about AutoRiesen – who are particularly popular with those who have second homes in the Canaries and stay for extended periods.

Irish Bars

Just by sticking a sign up outside saying “Irish” seems to indicate that it’s okay to slap an extra couple of euros onto the price of a drink. Now, I understand, that a large bar, with a 5-piece band playing and no entrance fee, has to charge more, and I have no problem with that. What I do have an issue with, are the many small Irish Bars (many of which have no connection to Ireland whatsoever), that charge €5, or more, for the same local lager that costs €2.50 next door.

Tourist Supermarkets

As in other Tourist destinations, small supermarkets can be very expensive. Apart from the small supermarkets attached to hotels and tourist complexes, the Hiperdino chain has its own chain of ‘tourist supermarkets’ (that’s their own description). While the larger Hiperdinos and Superdinos (confused yet?) offer good value, the smaller ‘Hiperdino Express’ supermarkets feature some eye-watering prices, where they seem to add a euro onto the price of everything. These ‘Hiperdino Express’ supermarkets are always located close to the main concentrations of hotels and tourist accommodation, while the bigger, cheaper versions will be located in the residential areas.

Illegal Drugs & other Nightime Activities

It should come as no surprise that many tourists get into trouble at night while attempting to buy drugs or illicit sexual services. Obviously, you will receive little protection from the law, if you go looking for those, but here are a few horror stories just in case you are tempted.

  • After stumbling drunk out of a bar, the victim is approached by a young African prostitute. They agree on a transaction and go down to the beach, where the victim is hit over the head with a blunt object by a waiting accomplice, and relieved of his wallet.
  • While visiting a ‘Puticlub’ alone, the tourist befriends some locals, who offer to take him to a great party. Instead of a party, they drive the inebriated tourist to a distant cash machine, and at gun or knife point, force him to withdraw the maximum amount of cash. He is then left drunk and confused at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
  • After consuming the ‘drugs’, the victim realises that they have been had, and complains bitterly to the Moroccan drug dealer. The dealer tells him politely to ‘go away’, and when he does not, the situation escalates, and the tourist spends the rest of his holiday in hospital.

4 Responses

  1. Herman Peter

    I agree with all the above…!As a Gestor and assistent to several Lawyers I know that the things you describe ,happens,and are true.I shared your article and hope that many people will read it.Thanks for your article !

  2. Ken Cambell

    Excellent advice if only people will take notice. We were confronted by a very big young man holding a clipboard saying that he was conducting a survey in Los Pocillos last September . He blocked our way and my wife was terrified, his manner was threatening but when I gave him a few “choice” words and clenched both my fists he backed off. Some other unsuspecting holiday maker may well have fallen for his chat and parted with their money. We love Lanzarote and usually go there a couple of times each year. Ken…..

  3. Steve Jackdon

    Lanzarote has had a problem with “Clipboard Scammers”. Tourists are approached by a person with a clipboard and asked to put their name and address on a form with several others purportedly to sing a petition to support a local charity ( deaf and dumb school) which doesn’t exist. They are then asked for a donation of €20 for the building fund! Total scam run mainly by Eastern Europeans.

  4. W. Gorvin

    These articles are full of good advise, well worth a read, prior to going on holiday.I hope visitors are not frightened off the Canneries by these scammers,sadly, this does go on all over in tourist destinations.As a previous person spoke of, being given a winning scratch card, this happened to us. My best advise is, if it sounds to good to be true, beware, it,s some kind of scam.Walk away and if that does not work,get your phone out and take pics of the offender & threaten to call the police.

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