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An Olympic scam?

olympics 2012I had a lady ring me yesterday.

“I have just seen my house advertised for let for the Olympics” she told me, “but it is without my permission and we have no intention of moving out!  Its our home.  What can I do?”

I suspect we will start to see this sort of thing more and more.

This lady’s situation could have been a genuine mistake (she had let the property in the past) but I suspect it is a scam.  Someone hoping to make a quick buck by taking a deposit and rent upfront from an unsuspecting sports lover.  Who will then find he’s been ‘had’.

My advice to the lady was to contact the company advertising the property, telling them that it is NOT available for letting and asking them to take the advert down immediately.  If they failed to do so, to contact them again threatening to report them to the police.

I don’t know how interested the police actually are in this sort of thing though – whether they will take it seriously as the crime it actually is or whether they will just dismiss it as a ‘civil matter’  Perhaps any police officers reading this could let us know.

Has anyone else had any experience of this type of thing happening?

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14 Responses to An Olympic scam?

  1. I have predicting scams like this for over a year now and blogging widely to make people aware.

    Correct advice Tessa. Confront them with it if you can find them. It is highly likely however that the company is non existent and is an internet con. I would like to know more about the company. If the lady in question wants to send me all their details I can run some checks for her using systems not available to the general public.

    The cops wont be the least bit interested unless the scammers are known to them as part f a wider investigation.

    The questioner could also consider placing a laminated sign on their front door saying “This property is not avialable for letting during the Olympics”

    Of course with the minimal information here it is difficult to be sure what the set up is. It could be that the landlord is marketing the property without having so far sought possession against the tenant, hoping she will move out voluntarily. This is a very common thing where landlord’s sell the property and simply expect the tenant to move out when it suits them.

  2. Tessa, I am glad to see you are using the nice “bidding stage” Olympic logo and not that gaudy deformed swastika that is the official logo.

    I live in the east end so I suspect I may see things like this taking place soon enough. I know that Newham council has put together guidance on dealing with this sort of thing but I don’t know if any others have.

  3. Huge events like the Olympics tend to attract scammers from all over the place, so it doesn’t surprise me one bit. I think it would be wise to tell them first to give them a chance to remove the advertisement. Although, going to the police if they don’t might not be enough for an event like this as they will have their resources all over the place. I would recommend some target government agency that specializes in reporting scammers. It would take some research but it might work.

  4. I agree with JS better logo but be careful Tessa it isn’t the official one – unless you are deliberately not using the official one so you can’t be sued for using the logo without consent.

    We have a pub down here The Hobbit which is being threatened by The Rings makers sols in America that they are using the name without consent. The pub had been here years mind they have beefed up their decor in Tolkien film style since they came out.

    Good idea on the laminated sign on the property Ben but not much help if the first the unwitting ‘tenant’ sees it is when they get off the ‘plane from Heathrow!!

    One thing that might be worth doing if the Police are needed but take no interest is go to Boris’ office he doesn’t want anything marring the Olympics!!

  5. Oh superb I.S. Dump it on Boris, what a fantastic idea.

    The champion of the Slow Food movement, a farmer in France called Jose Bove dump a load of slurry on the doorstep of a MacDonalds that opened in his town. He was charged with criminal damage but defended himself by arguing it was an act of food criticism. Only the French could get away with that……….or maybe not!!!!

    The big practical problem about Olympic scams is that there are 3 targets from a scammers perspective, landlords, existing tenants, foreign sports tourists. The lady who kicked this thread off is in a relatively strong position in terms of protection, those in the weakest position are the foreign crew. Potentially they know little of London geography, renting laws or how our industry operates. I dont know how to get out to those people, who will be coming from hundreds of different countries and continents. HOw do they get redress when 10 of them all turn up on the same day for the same property having paid everything up-front? And to a company taht didnt exist in the first place?

  6. I agree this is possibly one of those non-existent agents that advertise on the internet. One of my properties regularly pops up as available on one of those, so I tackled the last letting agent about it and complained and was told it was linked to their account and they would ask them to remove it. I think the letting agents will sometimes not inform others that the property is rented as it is just further advertising for them, and if anyone calls about that property they can state ‘that one has gone but we have a similar one at x,y,z location’.

    If you review the ads on rightmove,globrix and any other website that brings in ads from elsewhere a number of those properties are ‘fakes’, and if you click through to the actual advertiser they state they are no longer available. You are now on their website however, so the ad has been effective on drawing you to their website and once there you may start to review their available proeprties.

    Last year I studied this on a daily basis over 6-8 months(as I had 2 flats available and was purchasing one) and I estimated around 75% of the ads appearing were duds. In fact, some of those ads are still ‘live’. This only makes the task of choosing for a tenant even more difficult and skews the apparent market of available properties, I wish that something could be done to stamp out this practice.

    I am therefore very interested in Ben Reeve-Lewis’s post that it may be possible to investigate these, can you expand on this or tell me more?

  7. “Boris’s Office” are not the people organising the Games. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is responsible for staging the Games. LOCOG is a private company. (Their office is in Canary Wharf).

    Turning up at Boris’s Office with or without a truck load of slurry is not likely to solve your ‘letting scam’ problem.

  8. Good point Yvette and one on which I have some fairly recent input on.

    Yesterday a case was referred to me of a woman who had paid £1,600 up front for a property that had somehow fallen through and the agent was refusing to return her money.

    I didnt have any information at that time about the reason it had fallen through but I rang our Trading Standards guys for a bit of a heads up.

    The first thing told me I already knew. If a tenant pays money but they fail reference checks or for some reason of their own pulls out, then the agent is allowed to deduct reasonable admin expenses for the process. Obviously if they were witholding the full £1,600 that was excessive but would be a civil claim between the parties and possibly a complaint to the agent’s governing body (I checked their website, they arent accredited, despite having a Canary Wharf address and seemingly well established)

    But what TS told me was that it is a criminal offence to rent properties that the agent doesnt actually have the sanction to do so.

    Readin and writing this now makes me realise I have another question to put to TS tomorrow. “Is it an offence to merely advertise a property they dont have permission to market or is the offence in taking money for it?”.

    A pedantic but very important legal point. I understand that the offence is under the Accommodation Agencies Act, which isnt one that I prosecute under, hence my unfamiliarity.

    I know this is common practice also in recruitment agencies (Having spent a year as a temp) to leave jobs on the website to make you look busier than you are. I complained several times to agencies that the job had been on the site for months but was long gone, always to be met with an anodyne apology and a promise to take it down.

  9. @ Smithy

    joke   /dʒoʊk/ Show Spelled [johk] Show IPA noun, verb, joked, jok·ing.
    1. something said or done to provoke laughter or cause amusement, as a witticism, a short and amusing anecdote, or a prankish act: He tells very funny jokes. She played a joke on him.

  10. Oh and also…..sorry to triple post. I also know, from my very short time as a letting agent, that it is an offence to leave a board up outside a property for more than 14 days after property has been sold or let

  11. I just had a very enlightening chat with one of our Trading standards officers about this.

    The relevant rule is the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and there are 2 basic ways it works for situations like this.

    The first is a thing called “Bait and Switch”, a practice whereby a property is advertised that either doesnt exist or they dont actually have instruction from the landlrod, the aim being to entice people in and then offer them a different property that they really do have. They can get done for that.

    Second is loosely defined as a ‘Misleading action’ which is advertising properties in ways that get people to stump up cash. For Bait and Switch they dont need to look any further to prosecute but for Misleading actions they need to prove how it has advserly affected the transactional decisions of the prospective tenant.

  12. Advertising when not authorised to do so is indeed an offence under Accommodation Agencies Act 1953 s1(c)

    The regulations on boards are under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 I think. Two weeks after the property has been let or sold boards should be taken down

  13. Yeah, my guy told me about the boards thing. Last I heard, about a year ago, Hammersmith and Fulham cuncil were going to ban all estate agents boards from the borough. Anyone heard about that?

    And I have to confess. I got my last post the wrong way around (I was rushing to get out to a mortgage rescue seminar)

    Bait and Switch is the one the one you have to prove the con affected the person financial decision. Misleading Action is cut and dried. If you dont have the sanction to let a property that is enough to fall foul of the regulations.

    Sorry readers, but this was all news to me this morning



About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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