In what Cambridgeshire Police have called a “truly brazen crime”, a private tenant has been jailed for attempting to sell the home he was renting in order to make off with the proceeds.
41-year-old Andrew Smith moved into the three-bedroom home in Cambridge in early 2020, only to list the property on the market just two weeks later. The listing was published via a non-existent online estate agent in the hope of tricking a desperate buyer into a quick sale.
And he almost succeeded, with one interested party coming dangerously close to handing over £400,000 for the property he didn’t even own. The price was agreed, and the sale was on its way to being finalised when an inspection by the buyer (accompanied by a drain surveyor) prompted suspicion.
After speaking to neighbours who said they were almost certain the house was being rented to its current occupant, he called the police. The subsequent investigation found that M upon. Smith had even rented furniture to stage the property for viewing by prospective buyers in order to sell it faster and for a higher price.
He was detained in Bedford and accused of engaging in money laundering and fraud by false representation. Having helped turn a quick profit at the expense of an unsuspecting buyer, Mr Smith was sentenced at Brighton Magistrates’ Court to two years and six months in prison.
“This is an almost unbelievable and truly brazen crime, which saw an innocent buyer almost part with more than £400,000 for a property that was never for sale in the first place,” said Detective Constable Dan Harper.
“The investigation has been long and detailed, and we have worked tirelessly to make sure justice has been served.”
A stark warning
Despite having been labelled an “almost unbelievable” crime, the prevalence of these types of incidents has been growing across the UK for some time. In particular, rapidly rising levels of “title fraud” are prompting homeowners in record numbers to register for property alerts with the Land Registry.
Incredibly, research suggests that as many as 97% of homeowners face the threat of their properties being sold illegally, without their consent or their knowledge.
From 2020 to 2021, the Land Registry recorded a 300% increase in the number of people registering for property alerts. According to new information released by Third fort based on a Freedom of Information Act request, more homeowners than ever before appear to be taking title fraud seriously.
But even now, a mere 515,000 property owners have so far registered for the service, which is provided 100% free of charge in England and Wales. This equates to just 2.5% of all property owners, suggesting that almost 98% face the very real risk of falling victim to title fraud.
As explained on Gov.co.uk:
“We will send you an email alert each time there is significant activity on the property you are monitoring, such as if a new mortgage is taken out against it.”
“The alert will tell you the type of activity (such as an application to change the register or a notification that an application may be due), who the applicant is, and the date and time it has been received.”
“Not all alert emails will mean fraudulent activity. If you don’t think the alert email is about any suspicious activity, you don’t need to do anything.”
“Signing up for Property Alert won’t automatically stop fraud from happening. You will need to decide if the activity on the property is potentially fraudulent and act quickly if so. The alert email will tell you who to contact.”