Fraud

How criminals commit property frauds - Case study 1

Property hijacking

Many of us dream of winning the lottery. We wonder what we would do if we suddenly won a million pounds and could finally give up the 9-5. Sadly the chances of winning the lottery are stacked against you. The chances of winning the National Lottery jackpot is approximately 1 in 14 million. The odds of committing a property scam and getting away with it are much better, trust me.

Assemble a team

To commit this fraud I will need to get a team together, the official name is an Organised Crime Group (OCG). I will need a solicitor, money mules, agent, and an estate agent. OCGs are just a modern way to describe a “mafia”. Just like a professional organisation, you will have a CEO, managers, and the lower paid staff that allows my company to function. I am the CEO of this property hijacking OCG and I’m controlling it all without getting my hands dirty. But I will get a lot of money at the end of it. To my overseas bank, of course. Police in the UK usually give up trying to get money back when it gets transferred abroad. I know this from other frauds I have gotten away with. If you get the money out of the country you are halfway there. The police tend to focus on quickly solvable crimes since their budgets have been cut. I will pay all my staff in cash so this way I won’t be tracked even if the police investigate my staff. My telephone and computer aren’t traceable and I’m heavily into cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin used to be good but I use Monero now. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than a bank account.

The staff in my team are often what is called professional enablers. Solicitors may be “trusted” professions, however, there are bad apples in most occupations and it’s not hard to turn heads when decent money is on the table. Is it easy to get a job with fake identification and references? Yes. A fake passport may cost you £300, however, as long as it has your picture on it, it will usually suffice. And how do you know the references are genuine? We set up email addresses and control the references, of course.

It is not very difficult to purchase a domain name that closely resembles a large company. These finer details are often not checked. It amazes me that companies don’t spend 99p on buying these up. We use prepaid credit cards opened with fake identification to make our online purchases and to get Land Registry titles and obtain the documents. A good place to assemble a team is in prison. There is a lot of expertise in prisons and people are now realising its much better to commit fraud as the sentences are a lot less if you get caught. A big if. You will be out in no time and if you are smart the money will be hidden to come back to. Prison isn’t really that bad really and fraudsters are respected. If you commit an armed robbery the police will attend the scene and investigate it. If you commit a property scam Action Fraud may not even disseminate it to the police force for investigation. If the police receive a property scam months after the offence has taken place, it is highly likely that the crime is not prioritised or even investigated. Banks aren’t that concerned with tracking the money. It’s not their money, is it?

Asked why he robbed banks, the infamous American bank robber, Willie Sutton, is supposed to have replied: “Because that is where the money is”. Not anymore.  Money has largely moved online – and so have the bank robbers and fraudsters. If Willie Sutton was around today, he would be behind a keyboard. The days of the old-fashioned heist are largely over. 

Anyway, I digress and will get back to my property hijacking. The estate agent working for me has alerted me to a high-value property that doesn’t have a mortgage and the owners want a quick sale. It is always good to add some urgency into the equation to get things moving and this increases the chance of things being overlooked by overworked junior conveyancers. The property is located in one of the most sought-after areas in London and is valued at over £9 million pounds – the sellers want a quick sale due to a divorce. Perfect.

My “agent” contacts the estate agent and tells them that they have an overseas client who wants to view the property and will be making a cash purchase. The estate agent arranges for the viewing to take place with the agent and his buyers. It is best to keep mortgage companies out of it. Even less checks this way.

Simultaneously, the same “agent” working for me has contacted another estate agent and informed them that he is acting for the seller of the said property and offers it for a quick sale price of £7 million pounds. The estate agent contacts developers he knows and they are shown around the property and they make an offer of all cash, that is accepted. Everyone wants to make a profit from this apparent undervalued property. These people are always so busy chasing money they don’t check anything themselves.

My solicitor, whilst working for a law firm, purchases a domain name closely resembling the genuine solicitors firm that he is working for and completes the conveyancing, duping the buyer’s solicitors easily. The funds are sent to the genuine solicitors client account and the funds are dispersed to many waiting mule accounts in the UK and overseas.

As simple as that.

How could this happen?

  1. People are greedy and financially motivated

  2. Professionals take their eye off the ball

  3. It is easy to obtain fake identification

  4. It is easy to launder money

  5. The police do not have the resources and expertise to respond to these sophisticated crimes.

Could that really happen so easily? Yes, and it did. Can this be prevented? Yes.

In response to the challenges of the digital age, a new industry has sprung up to tackle it.  Fast and focused, fraud investigation and advisory firms aim to identify perpetrators quickly, and negotiate or freeze their assets and drive through prosecutions.  If left to officialdom to act, the trail will often go cold.  If confronted quickly, in my experience, fraudsters are often surprisingly keen to admit to their offences – as you might expect from people with other crimes and scams to hide, sometimes dating back decades.

When Willie Sutton found daring new ways to rob banks, he got away with it for a while.  But he was eventually brought to book – and spent a large part of his life in jail.  The latter-day Willie Sutton’s will do too – but only when we have found new improved ways and funding to combat what is fast becoming the single biggest criminal threat of the twenty-first century.

This was first published at https://www.todaysconveyancer.co.uk

Suzanne Raftery is a former Detective and property fraud specialist. She is now head of investigations of Requite Solutions a fraud prevention and Investigations Company www.requitesolutions.com.