Three rogue operators in London have been sentenced after pleading guilty to money laundering fraudulent rental payments received for properties that were never available to rent.
The sentences, which were handed down at Snaresbrook Crown Court, follow an investigation spearheaded by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, which found that an online property letting agent, called Oliver Knights, was being used as a vehicle for fraud that has led to at least £50,000 financial loss for tenants and landlords.
Landlords and tenants were left in despair after Oliver Knights suddenly closed down in mid-2015, owing thousands of pounds in unpaid rent and holding deposits.
Landlord Action was instructed at the time to recover more than £10,000 for one landlord and £8,000 for another.
The final sentences handed down saw Adnan Iqbal, 34, from Barking, sentenced to 10 months, suspended for 18 months on 21 September 2019; Shaidul Islam, 29, from Ilford, sentenced to one year, suspended for 18 months; Kamran Malik, 31, from Plaistow, sentenced to one year, suspended for 18 months.
Islam and Malik were also ordered to pay compensation orders totalling more than £15,000, which is being redistributed to victims. All three were also ordered to do 120 hours unpaid community work each.
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, such as leaving people without a home, for prospective tenants and landlords. It is not suggested that the defendants were involved in the underlying frauds.
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.”