A leading estate agent has complained that neither the police nor internet providers were willing to help after his company was ‘cloned’ by online property scam criminal intent on stealing deposits and rent off tenants.
Kristjan Byfield of London agency Base Property Specialists last month discovered that a set of criminal had targeted a dormant company on Companies House with a very similar name to his.
This belonged to a family who owned a carpet flooring business but who had also invested in property, and its details were used to create false business online.
The criminals impersonated the directors of this company and used its details such as company registration number and registered address to ‘look legit’.
He believes says the fake website featured rental properties stolen from other agents to lure in unsuspecting tenants to pay deposits and first months’ rent.
Extraordinarily, the criminals also joined the PRS redress scheme, TDS deposits and both Zoopla and OTM to add even more legitimacy to their fraudulent website.
Byfield (pictured) says they targeted these organisations because they offer free initial periods to new agents.
“Zoopla noticed something wasn’t quite right about them and pulled the listings, largely I believe because the properties were way under market value and were therefore attracting huge number of enquiries,” he says.
“On one day we had 200 phone calls from people who thought the fake listings were ours, which alerted us to what was going on, including one tenant who wasn’t worried that a property that should be £3,000 a month was £1,800 a month.
“This is why it’s so easy to be a scammer – you can set up pretty much for free with a fake website, register with a portal and other organisations for free too and then dupe people who think they’ve bagged a bargain dream home.”
But Byfield says his greatest concern is that neither the police nor the internet providers were willing to close down the fake website or arrest the criminals behind it unless he could prove someone had been defrauded.
“To give the organisations involved including OTM, Zoopla, TDS and Hamilton Fraser’s PRS removed the fake business from their platforms quickly,” he says.