A fraudster who posed as a letting agent and conned tenants out of over £25,000 has been jailed.
Seven years ago, Adam Coote, 36, from Shoreditch London, was jailed for an identical scam, when he used a different name plus what was described as a string of pseudonyms.
The case once again highlights the worrying ease with which anyone can set up a letting agency and take money off members of the public.
Coote was sentenced for his latest scam by Judge Jeffrey Pegden at Southwark Crown Court and received 28 months in jail.
His accomplices Andrew Rickard, 51, and Sahila Kauser, 34, had been sentenced earlier – Rickard to 18 months in jail and Kauser to 18 months suspended for two years, so that she could look after the couple’s children.
Ringleader Coote began his latest scam shortly after being released from a four-year sentence for carrying out similar operations in the north and midlands.
Using the name Elliot Wilson, he had set up Kensington Real Estate in Liverpool. Tenants paid deposits and rent upfront, but much of the money never went to the landlords.
Wilson moved on to both Birmingham and Leeds, and eventually handed himself in after seeing himself on Crimewatch.
It was in prison for those crimes that Coote met Rickard, who was serving a sentence for cannabis dealing.
Coote, Rickard and Kauser went on to set up a new scam, involving fake agencies with upmarket names such as Belgravia Property Group, Mayfair Residential and Park Lane Residential, and which offered properties in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Walsall.
They made potential tenants hand over six months’ rent after telling them they had failed credit checks. Altogether they made £26,585 from 21 tenants in this way, covering their tracks by carrying out some legitimate transactions.
Victims, who would typically go to what they believed was their new rental home only to find someone else already living there, complained to police.
Prosecutor Warwick Tatford said: “In its simplest form the fraud involved establishing false letting agencies which would be used to approach landlords who were selling properties on the internet.
“The defendants were able to secure access to the properties and keys, and a number of prospective tenants would then be shown around the properties.”
He added: “Prospective tenants were provided with access keys of the properties and when they intended to move in to the property they would find there was already a tenant in place who had also signed a tenancy with the company.”
Coote, appearing at court via video link, admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
The case underlines the current lack of controls in the industry, by which anyone can set up as a letting agent – even if they have just come out of prison for fraud.
It is however likely that Coote would be included on a blacklist of criminal agents and landlords due to go live next year, but which is not intended to be open to the public to check. There will also be the ability to ban bad agents. It is not clear how it would deal with pseudonyms.