Three men have been sentenced for their part in a rental fraud operation which left landlords and tenants £50,000 out of pocket.
Adnan Iqbal, aged 34 from Barking, Shaidul Islam, aged 29 from Ilford and Kamran Malik, aged 31 from Plaistow pleaded guilty to money laundering in April 2019.
The sentences follow an investigation spearheaded by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, which found online property letting business Oliver Knights was being used as a vehicle for fraud.
All three defendants pleaded guilty to money laundering, having knowingly allowed their bank accounts to be used to launder the proceeds of lettings frauds between the 31 December 2013 and 4 September 2015.
The proceeds specifically relate to rental payments received for properties that were never available to rent, although it is not suggested the defendants were involved in the underlying frauds.
Iqbal was sentenced to 10 months, suspended for 18 months, Islam was sentenced to a year, suspended for 18 months and Malik was sentenced to a year, suspended for 18 months at Snaresbrook Crown Court.
Islam and Malik were also ordered to pay compensation orders totaling more than £15,000, which is being redistributed to victims. All three were also ordered to do 120 hours unpaid community work each.
Oliver Knights advertised properties to let on websites such as Rightmove, Zoopla, Gumtree and their own site to attract interest from prospective tenants.
After initial dialogue and property viewings, consumers paid deposits and rent in advance – totalling hundreds or thousands of pounds – only to be told that the property was no longer available, or to not hear anything further from Oliver Knights representatives.
Some of the properties offered for rent had never been available and had been falsely advertised without the consent of the owners.
In other instances, consumers paid deposits and rent and moved into the property before discovering that the transaction had been completed without the landlord’s knowledge and/or without the necessary payments being passed on to the landlord by Oliver Knights. This left landlords out of pocket and some renters without a home.
The investigation was prompted by more than 40 complaints to Action Fraud and Citizens Advice about Oliver Knights and has exposed how the business was used a vehicle for fraud, causing financial loss, distress and significant inconvenience for prospective tenants and landlords.
Lord Toby Harris, chair, National Trading Standards, said: “The defendants knowingly allowed fraudulent payments to be made into bank accounts and – while not being the architects of the fraud – have benefited financially from fraudulent activity.
“We are determined to clamp down on those who benefit from the financial exploitation of others and I am grateful to our investigators for their determination to secure justice and compensation for the victims, who have been left out of pocket and, in some cases, emotionally scarred.
“The internet is a natural place to search for rental properties, but online search portals can be manipulated by criminals and it’s important to be vigilant.
“You should always check properties through accredited schemes – such as the Residential Landlords Accreditation Scheme or the National Approved Letting Scheme – and avoid paying deposits before you have visited the property yourself. Importantly, never feel pressured to transfer money to strangers.”
To report any suspected cases of fraud you should contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.