María, 73, does not shop on the internet. She doesn't even have a computer. The router at home was installed "for the TV and the telephone". She occasionally uses her mobile phone to communicate with her grandchildren on WhatsApp. "Before this, I didn't even know what hacking was," she jokes.
This Costa del Sol pensioner learned the hard way when she became, unbeknownst to her, a cybercriminal: criminals had allegedly cloned María's national ID card (DNI) to create profiles on two online gambling sites, using the money from the credit card she had apparently stolen from another woman in the Basque Country, northern Spain.
This is a very common technique in cyber-scams. If the criminals win their bets, they pocket the money. If they lose, they don't care, because they are playing with someone else's money.
In this case, it was a woman from the Basque Country whose bank card was cloned, leading to 400 euros taken from her current account. It was then that María, the pensioner from Rincón de la Victoria near Malaga, was plunged into a "nightmare", as she describes it.
When the victim from the distant Basque Country reported the scam and the police began to investigate, the person who appeared as the gambler was María. "The only thing I play now and then is the lottery," explains María.
It all started one day in October 2021, when María opened her letterbox and found a summons for a court hearing the Basque Country. "At that moment you don't know what to think, it took me completely by surprise. I had been to the Basque Country six years earlier on a trip, so at first I thought it might be something related to that."
Bewildered, she began to look for a lawyer and she found Francisco José Peláez from the Penaltech law firm, who has helped her through her ordeal.
"When we saw the summons," Peláez explains, "we knew immediately that it wasn't about her trip, but about embezzlement and that she was a victim. My friends couldn't believe it."
María says she felt very vulnerable, especially considering how little she understands about technology. "It feels very bad, terrible, and also at my age... I've never had anything to do with the law courts. I've never had anyone accuse me or anything. I've spent a long time dreading checking the postbox and wondering what I would find," explained the woman, who was widowed 17 years ago and who worked as a cook in a bar and as a cleaner.
However, the proceedings for the court appearance continued and María saw that she was getting closer and closer to sitting in the dock. "I thought that at some point they would realise, but of course, you never know. If I'd had no choice, I would have gone to the trial."
Although she knew she was innocent, the possibility that the courts wouldn't believe her played on her mind. "I thought I was going to be in prison for the rest of my life. Although at my age... it doesn't really matter to me anymore," she joked.
With the trial date in sight, the lawyers asked the police in the Basque Country for evidence to prove that their client was yet another victim of a known hacker.
Fortunately the evidence wasn't used in the end as the court dismissed the charges on the grounds that the time to bring charges had expired, although the underlying reason, according to María's lawyer, is that the judge could see that there was no case.
"I was overjoyed when he gave me the news. At last this nightmare is over," said María, who is still afraid that it will happen again, "because my ID details are still in their hands," she said. María even asked at the police station if she could change her DNI number, but they told her that it wasn't possible.