Agents warned after £1.3m property is fraudulently rented and then sold

Agents are warned to be on their guard against an identity fraud sting by which criminals successfully collect cash for sales of homes that the crooks never owned.

There have been “many” cases investigated in London in the past few months, with the Metropolitan Police reporting four.

A fifth looks to concern the veteran war reporter Max Hastings, who has found himself with another battle on his hands after a rental property owned by his wife was caught in a £1.3m sting.

The fraudsters target unmortgaged properties with absentee owners.

It is not a new sting but it does highlight the importance of using the Land Registry’s service which alerts property owners to unusual activity.

The Hastings home in Fulham was first let to a fraudulent tenant and then sold on his instructions, with the help of an accomplice.

The bogus tenant appears to have taken someone else’s legitimate identity, with the woman accomplice posing as the seller, Max Hasting’s wife Penny.

The unsuspecting purchaser paid the full £1.3m in cash and has lost it. The money is said to be in a bank in Dubai.

The lettings agent was not named by Hastings, writing at the weekend in the Mail, but the agent that arranged the sale was identified as Foxtons.

The lettings agent – apparently being roasted by Penny Hastings’ lawyer “over a slow fire and they are not quite cooked” – let the property to a Kevin Hafter.

Hafter wanted a two-year lease and made all his payments in cash.

His references were provided through a referencing agent named as Van Mildert.

As soon as Hafter took possession of the property, it was placed with Foxtons for sale. Hafter claimed to be acting on behalf of Mrs Hastings.

According to the Mail article, a price was swiftly agreed and a firm of licensed conveyanceres acted for the alleged seller.

A woman in south London masqueraded as Mrs Hastings. She changed her name to Penelope Hastings by deed poll and secured a passport, allowing Foxtons to check out the seller – although Hastings alleges that a photocopy sufficed, without the woman actually having to appear.

Steve Bilton, managing director of the credit referencing agency Van Mildert, said he was satisfied the firm had robust processes in place, but would co-operate with any investigation to the fullest possible extent.

Foxtons said that the woman vendor had been in possession of a genuine passport, and added: “This case highlights the east with which criminals appear to be able to establish new, credible identities and is something we believe needs to be addressed nationally.”

In the Hastings’ case, as reported in the Mail, several other issues emerge: the Land Registry did not allow the transaction to go through, selling a rat, which means that Mrs Hastings still owns the property, although the buyer has lost £1.3m.

Also, the unnamed lettings agent says it cannot refund the deposit “Mr Hafner” paid without his consent.

The case also highlights just how difficult agents may well find identity verification under the Right to Rent regime which kicks in on February 1.

As to the all-important Land Registry service that alerts property owners to unusual activity, the link is here

The service can be used by non-owners as well – for example, family members, and professionals acting for the owner.

Vulnerable properties are considered to include any property that is unmortgaged and which has an absentee owner – for example, rented homes; homes where the owner has moved abroad; empty homes up for sale where the owner has moved into care; and probate properties.

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6 Comments

  1. Rob Hailstone

     
    A passport (like the one described) is known as a FOG document. Fraudulently Obtained Genuine. Documents like these, when hijacked from a real person, will pass every possible ID scanning checking service available because they are genuine documents.
     
    Fraudsters are also finding ways of intercepting money transfers. For example, they can hack into a lawyer’s IT system and can then create emails, which they send to the purchaser, who believe they have come from their lawyer.
     
    A new online service, called the Safe Move Scheme, has recently been launched to protect people buying and selling houses from the threat of cybercrime and other types of fraud. Hopefully this will help.

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  2. Will

    So this suggests the Government’s right to rent scheme is a total nonsense full of Blue Tape (used to be called red tape until the conservatives took power). It shows weak control by the law enforcement bodies and even more weak security through the ISP’s & banks.

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  3. whaley

    Spot on Rob, if these gangs are going to the extreme of getting professionally forged passports then with the best will in the world it’s going to be incredibly difficult to catch.

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    1. Gump

      The passports aren’t forged, they are legit! . Right to Rent is going to be fun

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  4. Woodentop

    I’ll add a new one into the equation……

     

    High tech criminals are targeting solicitor’s IT systems getting buyers data and using phishing scams get the buyer to pay their deposit into the scam solicitors on-line account thinking it is their solicitors asking for the deposit to exchange of contract. The money is often immediately split into three payments around the world making it virtually impossible to track …. or worth tracking?

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  5. johnclay

    Why didn’t large payments in cash alert the letting agent?

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