Three criminals have been sentenced after pleading guilty to money laundering involving an online lettings agency.
The sentences follow an investigation spearheaded by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, which found that an online property business – Oliver Knights – was being used as a vehicle for fraud that has led to at least £50,000 financial loss for tenants and landlords.
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. These proceeds specifically relate to rental payments received for properties that were never available to rent.
The sentences were imposed on Adnan Iqbal, from Barking, who was sentenced to 10 months, suspended for 18 months; on Shaidul Islam and Kamram Malik, both from London, each sentenced to one year’s imprisonment suspended for 18 months.
Islam and Malik were also ordered to pay compensation orders totaling more than £15,000, which is being redistributed to victims.
The 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.
According to a Trading Standards statement the complaints “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.”
Lord Toby Harris, the chair of National Trading Standards, says: "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.”
Trading Standards says: “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 some renters without a home and caused financial loss to landlords.”