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.”