Scammers Target Property Professionals

Scams have always been a part of the property business, unfortunately.

The victims are often inexperienced buyers and investors, and sometimes sellers too whose deals fall through and who may have inadvertently given money to fraudsters. There have been a few stories about this in the press - too few, I believe - mainly looking at those who have lost their savings on fake developments.

These have been in Spain, Bulgaria, Montenegro and even the odd one in Manchester and Leeds. Last week I found out about one on a Greek island, too, where a property built on land with planning permission turned out to be illegal - and had to be demolished. The losers have mostly been individuals (in one case, a property journalist) who put their faith in people without checking even the most basic bona fides.

Now there appears to be a growing number of occasions when even estate agents and developers are being scammed, or at least are victims of attempted scams.

These activities tend to follow one of three patterns:

1. Individuals email agents asking for details of properties on sale (including details of owners). These 'buyers' - typically using Googlemail or AOL email accounts - claim to be senior officers serving in Afghanistan so cannot turn up in person, and write of their interest in the properties in question ahead of their imminent departure from the forces. Many agents selling homes overseas have had these approaches, presumably by scammers who want copies of documents for later fraudulent activity;

2. Some particularly ballsy scammers find busy (and lax) lettings agents who simply lend 'respectable' prospective tenants keys to view a property alone. These 'respectable' people, meanwhile, have used Vivastreet or similar small ads websites to attract genuine but naive tenants to look at the same properties for which they have obtained keys. The dodgy dealers, pretending to be legitimate agents, then pocket the deposits when they persuade the real prospective tenants to ‘take’ the apartment;

3. More simple, and more common, scams involve those people who pretend to be interested in a property they simply cannot afford. Nick Candy (yes, THAT Nick Candy) had a hoax buyer some years ago when selling his £7m London home. The buyer even turned up in a chauffeur-driven limo. "He made four visits in all, some with friends, to get their opinions, and offered me the asking price" says Candy, who was convinced enough to commission solicitors to progress the deal - which they turned out to be false. The scammers do this for kicks or, sometimes, to case a property ahead of a burglary.

Agents say these scams are increasing in number, partly because property deals involve large sums of money and partly because online communications may make fraud easier to perpetrate in some circumstances. Either way, there is a lot of it about - and the industry, as well as the public, seems to be on the receiving end.

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