“A house for €10, this is serious - it’s now!” read the enticing offer on the website of Leonardo Simpatico, a property agent from Aix-en-Provence. Sadly it was not serious but that did not stop several unlucky winners falling victim to a scam French investigator Dominique Moyal described as "well put together".
An investigation by authorities in France this week revealed how 51-year-old Simpatico organized an internet lottery offering people the chance to win their dream home in the south of France.
The catch? It seemed there was none. Participants had to pay €10 to enter and if they didn't win, they were promised their money back. This was done to avoid the lottery being illegal.
Thousands are believed to have taken part, with investigators believing Simpatico raked in around €400,000 from participants, French radio Europe1 reported on Friday.
A total of six houses or apartments were up for grabs, which Simpatico claimed he had bought from the real owners, media reports revealed.
One of the unsuspecting winners was a 23-year-old woman named only as Roxanne.
She believed her dream had come true when she was handed the keys to a 110 m² house, but that dream was soon shattered.
“Like everyone else, I trusted him” she told Europe1. “This was a new lottery in France. I was so happy. It was a dream," Roxanne added.
The problem was, Simpatico had not completed the deals for any of the properties, which remain in the hands of the original owners.
Now, Roxanne faces the prospect of losing her new home.
“I am afraid of losing the house. If they take this away from me, my dream goes up in smoke. I would have to find a new apartment and rebuild everything.
Simpatico, his daughter, as well as a notary in Aix-en-Provence were arrested this week and placed in custody in Marseille. They were later charged with fraud, operating an illegal lottery and illegal betting.