The unprecedented increase in the number of victims of the Luna Maya Swindle, forced Spain’s government’s gambling monopoly, Loterias y Apuestas del Estado, created under Spanish gambling laws, to issue warnings to four foreign embassies. Spain, a tourist Mecca for millions of English speaking tourists has been concerned about a possible backlash and loss of important source of tax revenues. According to government sources, the scam was originally developed by a loose network of illegal Nigerian immigrants living in Madrid’s public housing, and has been ongoing for over one year.
Mr. Pablo Ruiz, a spokesman of the MCC Estado, explains that the swindle involved Nigerian criminals getting a hold of lists of recently arrived tourists between the ages of 17 and 25 from four predominantly English speaking countries: United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Mr. Ruiz speculates that the information about the foreign tourists was compiled by female accomplices who are employed by Madrid’s multitude of guesthouses and hostels. The gang was able to redirect phone numbers within a major Madrid casino to mobile phones controlled by the gang. The gang maded calls to grandparents, aunts or uncles of the foreign tourists, impersonating various casino security personel, police officers and attourneys.
Mr. Ruis speculates that information regarding relatives of foreigners was extracted from the unsuspecting tourists during hostel registration. The relatives shortly would receive a telephone call claiming that their grandson or nephew was under detention for defrauding a Spanish casino for $4000US and the money must be immediately transferred to settle the incident without an arrest. In some incidents, a vague voice far in the background, which victims claim sounded like their loved ones, was heard crying and asking for help.
Shortly after the money is sent either through Western Union, internet gambling or internet based currency transfer websites, the relatives receive another telephone call from a Spanish casino attorney demanding an additional $4000 for legal expenses allegedly accrued by the Spanish casino. This process is repeated with Nigerian criminals impersonating police, additional victims, judges and prosecutors until the victims becoomes suspicious or the bank declines further transfers. The foreign tourist at this time is safely visiting local landmarks, completely unaware of the criminal scheme being perpetrated upon his relatives.
Mr. Ruiz recommends for foreigners to be aware of the Luna Maya swindle and to never send money to unknown individuals anywhere in the world and that the government of Spain is close to making arrests. Elena Salgado, Spain’s Minister for the Economy deflected questions regarding Luna Maya, focusing more on the upcoming legalization of online casino in Spain region of Aragon. Currently Spain and Australia hold the title of having the largest percentage of citizens who gamble at least once per week.