Police warn after fraudsters take down For Sale board, steal property and con would-be tenants

In an extraordinary new case of fraud, a house that was for sale was ‘stolen’ and then rented out.

Agents have not so far been officially warned of the scam but tenants have been, as police inquiries continue.

The fraudsters targeted the empty house, took down its For Sale board, changed the locks and advertised it on Gumtree for rent last month.

The gang, believed to be at least three people, arranged viewings of potential tenants.

They then arranged hand-overs for two families, insisting on cash payments, claiming it would speed up the process and ensure they got the property.

One family was booked for a hand-over at 5.30pm and the other at 6.30pm.

Both families turned up with their deposits and two months’ worth of rent in advance.

Both handed over their money and received tenancy agreements and keys to the property. Both appear to have lost their money, running into thousands of pounds, with no right to rent the house.

The fraud came to light after a relative of the real property owner saw people in the back garden at the 6.30pm hand-over who said they were prospective new tenants.

The property is a three-bed semi in Plympton, Devon.

Detective Constable Ed Carr said the fraudsters were “very organised and very believable” and knew the landlord and tenancy system well, using recognised terminology.

He said: “There were two families who were victims – one with young children and the other with a child on the way.

“These are people who have been saving up their deposit and rent advance for a long time.”

Police believe the suspects even conned a locksmith, claiming they were having work done on the house and that the builders had lost the key.

EYE asked if the home had been put up for sale via an estate agent, as seems likely given the removal of the board.

A police spokesperson told us: “These matters are still operationally sensitive so I can’t comment on that specific matter.”



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  1. TwitterSalisPropNews

    Who on earth were the estate agents selling the property at the time?!!

    1. ArthurHouse02

      I dont think you can blame the agent here. It would only have taken a few hours to break in, change the locks, advertise the property and then maybe only a few days to dupe potential tenants. I’m sure many agents have gone more than a few days between viewings.

      The big story is tenants need to be educated more on the dangers of renting privately.

    2. rsvstu97

      Why? This fraud could have taken place all within a few days. If people are desperate and property in short supply this transaction could all have taken place either side of a weekend.

  2. Property Money Tree

    …this is why I always refuse boards when my property is empty (for Sale, or for Let).

    I’ve never envisaged this fraud though, my concern has always been squatters, and also thieves that plunder empty properties (down to taking ovens, copper pipes, boilers etc.).  Boards just tell them the property could be empty.  A few days of surveillance will then confirm the situation…  Unless the property is in a secure block, having a Board for an empty property is simply tempting fate 🙁


    1. ArthurHouse02

      Doesnt it also work the other way though? A for sale board confirms that at any given moment the estate agent could turn up

      1. Paulfromromsey87

        …which is exactly what I tell clients and then they very rarely say no.

  3. Lettings Guru

    and this takes us back to why Regulation and Qualification in the industry is long overdue and eagerly anticipated.  Its the unscrupulous activities of the very few that have a disproportionate affect on the entire industry. A reputable agent would have Land Registry checked the Landlord.

    The government should be investing more in the education of tenants and the importance of using a Letting Agent (preferably an ARLA accredited one) to ensure their money is protected and the property is genuine.  The government are putting so much legislation into the industry and state they are committed to eliminate Rogue Landlords and increase consumer protection. However Consumer protection starts with education.



    1. ArthurHouse02

      Did you not read the article, the property was let via Gumtree, there was no letting agent involved.

      1. dave_d

        Obviously not

  4. GeorgeHammond78

    Sorry but this is neither extraordinary or new – just a slight variation on a very common scam. Facebook is littered with such and desperate, vulnerable people fall for them time and time again. Unusually,  in this case, the police have actually done their job. We had a very similar one a couple of years ago where we had to threaten the PCC before they very reluctantly became involved. Took us a week to get the ‘Tenants’ aka squatters removed with our client footing the bill for their utility usage and remedial works required.

  5. HD23

    I wonder if they protected the tenants deposits

  6. TwitterSalisPropNews

    On the limited facts above – I blame the agent 100%, absolutely no excuses. Far too many agents fail to visit their customers’ empty properties, they just wack it on their books and if no viewers come along, the property is left vacant and unvisted.

    This is exactly where agents can earn more % – if the make asusrances that they will visit minimum once a week.

    1. PeeBee

      On the obvious facts above, I think you should take more care with your posts.

      I blame you 100% – absolutely no excuses.

  7. Retiredandrelaxed

    When in doubt – blame the agent – it’s the easy way.


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