Illegal Lottery Operations in Spain, Portugal, and UK Come to an End

A criminal gang out of Spain selling fraudulent lottery tickets is out of commission. The international syndicate had a reach that extended to Portugal and UK, with police arresting 80 people in total.

Spain’s National Police on duty in Barcelona. The country’s police force recently dismantled a major organized crime group scamming the elderly with fake lottery and inheritance claims. (Image: Ara)

Spain’s National Police dealt a major blow against illegal gambling by disrupting the gang, which was dedicated to defrauding elderly people with fake lottery tickets. In the operations, carried out in the provinces of Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, and Santander, they arrested 61 people. In addition, police in Portugal arrested 19, with another three falling in the UK.

The authorities estimate that the criminal organization defrauded about 1,000 elderly people around the world (mostly in the US). They used the long-running “Nigerian Prince” scam before their world came crashing down. A joint effort between Spanish and Portuguese authorities, along with the UK’s Customs Surveillance of the Tax Agency and Europol, helped bring it to an end.

Synchronized Raids

An investigation began at the end of 2019, although no one knew what to expect at the time. However, agents detected parcels from the US with large amounts of money hidden inside magazines. From there, investigators followed the trails and threw out the net.

The police carried out their operations simultaneously in 53 places. During the raids, they seized more than $500,000, €30,000 (US$31,230), 200 cell phones, computers, and vehicles.

The criminal organization commissioned a photocopy shop in Fuenlabrada, Madrid to print the cards, which simulated lottery or other prizes, such as inheritances of unclaimed relatives. They were printed in two different ways, with the name and surname of the victims, or in a generalized way.

Next, they would acquire the individualized labels with the personal data and address to place them on the envelopes. The objective was to fool the recipients into believing they had large sums of money waiting, but would need to cover certain expenses to claim it.

Subsequently, they moved by land to Portugal to send them en masse, since the cost of the service is lower than in Spain. Researchers calculated that the approximate expenditure on all letters sent could amount to €500,000 (US$520,550).

Local Spanish media reports that the heads of the organization were based in the Madrid towns of Parla and Fuenlabrada. However, there were also other groups in Santander and the Malaga town of Benalmadena. In addition to Portugal, Spain and the UK, more arrests are possible in the US and Mexico.

Spain Hot on the Trail

This is not the first gang to fall in Spain. In May, after a 12-year delay, a group of lottery scammers operating in a similar manner was prosecuted.

In that case, official sources reported that the criminals defrauded people residing abroad (France, the US, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland). They made them believe that they had won a significant lottery prize and asked them to send money as a payment of taxes and transfers.

In addition, the National Police raided five premises in the Madrid district of Usera that were operating illegal gambling facilities. In that operation, police arrested 49 people. However, only two people faced charges for operating the properties.

During those raids, police discovered 17 mahjong tables and 141 poker tables. In addition, they confiscated over €30,000 (US$31,242) in cash. The investigation, which remains open and could lead to new arrests, included participation from at least five law enforcement agencies.

Despite overwhelming news coverage and repeated PSAs, people continue to fall for these lottery and inheritance scams. In 2020, consumers in the US lost over $227 million, according to the Better Business Bureau. Almost half came from victims 65 years old or more.

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