12 JANUARY 2008, Page 18

In less than a fortnight I turned down £2 million

Bryan Forbes is drawn into a cyberspace scam by an indignant ‘happily married’ woman who invites him to Madrid to arrange a princely payout It all began when an email greeted me one morning with ‘Dear Esteemed Winner, we are pleased to inform you of the result of the Fatelgordo International Promotions Program. Your email address was attached to the winning number 08 15 30 31 34 43 40 and you have therefore been approved for a lumpsum payout of £685,000.’ The shock of the amount almost started me smoking again. The message included the name and email address of the claims officer, a Mrs Helen Illic, at Teal Consulting Limited, London. It all seemed authentic and by now I had mentally begun to work out how I would distribute the money among my nearest and dearest. Then a small, still voice of caution kicked in. I searched for Teal on the internet and there is a company trading under that name although nothing on their website denoted they were connected to a Spanish lottery. I decided to test the water — after all, if it was genuine I’d feel a complete wally if I turned down £685,000.

I keyed in Mrs Illic’s email address. She responded with alacrity and thus began a week of cat-and-mouse exchanges. The language of her replies was often ungrammatical and early in the game she told me that ‘the diplomat was flown out to America with your prize using the late nite [sic] flight. Your cash prize totally [sic] US$1,370,000.’ I replied: ‘Why did this so-called diplomat fly to America with my prize money when I live in England? Yesterday you told me of a prize in pounds and for a different amount, so my instinct tells me something is not right. Please elucidate.’ Her immediate response was: ‘There has been an error. Pls give me sometime [sic] to find out what happened.’ This was shortly followed by: ‘The mistake has been sorted out. You are now to proceed to Madrid to collect your prize or you can have it sent to you. In this case you will have a notary represent you in the signing formalities. You will need to pay the notary £250 and £260 for the delivery. I hope we can continue with the process.’ Without giving personal details, I replied: ‘Dear Mrs Illic, thank you for sorting out the error. As I understand it, since I cannot go to Madrid for the presentation, I must settle for my prize to be delivered to me by a courier who will arrive here with what will be an extremely large amount of cash and I wonder what steps are being taken as regard security. I am sure you will further advise me.’ By now she was addressing me ‘Dear Bryan’ and getting a little tetchy, saying, ‘It appears you do not understand the process very clearly. Please note the following: 1) Since you are unable to be present in Madrid you must use and pay for an accredited Notary based in Madrid. 2) You will also have to pay for the direct delivery. 3) When it is [sic] been delivered the security part will be handled adequately.’ I liked her use of the word ‘adequately’.

I sent back: ‘Dear Mrs Illic, the situation becomes more and more complicated. 1) I know of no notary in Madrid so how do I go about appointing one? 2) You say I have to pay for the delivery. By this I take it I would have to pay the courier’s return airfare and hotel expenses in the UK. This is fine once I have been given a date and a name. 3) What is meant by the security aspect being handled “adequately”? Are you seriously saying that the entire amount would be handed me in cash? This seems incredible. I have the feeling you are not being entirely honest with me, but I hope I am wrong.’ This obviously stung the good woman and she indicated that she was beginning to lose patience with me. ‘It displeases me,’ she wrote in a sentence that became hopelessly obscure, ‘that it to me to write you to find out what is happening before you opened up. Actually the copletion [sic] for this process or procedure rest entirely with you. I cannot force you to receive your prize. I have been very honest with you. I am a happily married woman with 4 young children. I have no reason to lie or hoard information from you. I am only appealing you co-operate with me.’ I thanked her for her latest reply and said I was delighted she was happily married, then stated: ‘My basic problem is this: if indeed I am the winner of such an enormous sum of money it strikes me as odd that the actual administrators have failed to get in touch with me direct. If I was lucky enough to win the major prize in our own Premium Bond scheme, I would be contacted by an officer of the company on a one-to-one basis. I am sure you must be aware of the article in Newsweek a few weeks ago warning people such as myself to avoid becoming victims of elaborate scams. You are asking me to believe your assurances that the lottery owners in Madrid are prepared to give away a small fortune to a stranger in another country who was selected at random without ever buying a ticket for the said lottery. Nothing quite adds up if I examine these things closely. You are not dealing with an idiot.’ This got to her and she fired back: ‘Please I will not want to be drawn into any argument with you. I have given you straight answers. Since it appears you are suspicious of this whole process it will be difficult to make further progress. I have not called you an idiot.’ At which point the exchange stopped. However, no sooner had the happily married Mrs Illic tucked her four young children up for the night than I received notification, allegedly from the Camelot Group, that I had been picked as the winner of a lump sum totalling £891,934. I contacted Fraud Watch who confirmed that this was another bogus approach and that the endgame for these scams is that, once they have obtained personal details and money from you, they can clean out your bank account and credit card. So readers please be warned and remember there is no such thing as a free lunch.

P.S. Since beginning to write this account I have had notification from the imposingsounding FOUNDAZION DI VITORIO telling me I am to be the lucky recipient of a yearly cash donation of $US1,350,000. Is there to be no end to my good fortune? In the space of ten days I have turned down £2,429,107.