This article is from the Daily Mirror and we are publishing it as a warning to all tenants to be vigilant when viewing a property, especially when handing over deposits.
Could these two crooks be the same person? The picture on the right shows a con man who poses as a landlord with a flat to let.
Using the name Mustafa Bhatt, he advertises the property online and then tricks hopeful tenants into paying deposits.
When the tenants arrive with their belongings, they discover that the flat is already occupied and Mustafa has disappeared with the cash.
Detectives in London say he’s made at least £20,000 from one flat in Islington alone.
The bogus landlord was pictured on CCTV when he went with one of his victims to a bank as she withdrew £4,200 to pay her rent in advance.
Police are aware of 12 victims but believe there may be more.
Detective Inspector Rita Tierney from Islington CID said: “We have spoken to a number of concerned young adults, some from overseas, who’ve been defrauded of savings by this unscrupulous man and we want to identify him as soon as possible.”
Which is why a detective contacted the Mirror to ask about a story I ran in November 2010 (pictured on the left), describing the same bogus landlord scam.
That fraudster took out a one-week holiday let on a flat in King’s Cross, North London, which he advertised on Gumtree at a bargain rate without the knowledge of the real owners.
At least half a dozen people viewed the property, each paying around £1,800 in rent and deposits.
The only significant difference between the two cases is that back in 2010, the crook used the name Alok Sharma.
He was caught on camera by one prospective tenant called Alex who filmed the property to show to his wife, who wasn’t at the viewing.
“I know my money is gone but if I can help to prevent this person robbing decent working taxpayers like us, that would make this nightmare worth it,” Alex told me at the time.
One victim of the current version of the scam is Olina Zajickova.
“He advertised the flat on Zoopla.co.uk via OpenRent (direct landlord scheme) as a one bedroom flat in Popham Street in Islington.
“Myself and my boyfriend submitted our personal details via OpenRent as instructed by the site, and were contacted by Mustafa the same evening via text message.
“We viewed the flat the next day with another couple who were also interested. The flat was above London standards for the money required (£1105pcm – one month rent + 1 month deposit required). It was a well maintained & very modern flat in the lucrative location of Islington.
“We were offered contract the following day, confirmation slips for paying in cash, flat keys and electronic fob for the gated area.
“Unfortunately due to our personal pressing situation and with our guards down we risked the cash payment, which as we later discovered cost us all our savings. We asked for another viewing and were let in again by Mustafa while another young couple in the flat (white girl and black guy in their early twenties) acted as ‘current tenants’.
“We returned to the flat the evening before the move in date to check that the keys worked without issues, and met with the actual landlord who was in the process of changing door locks due to the fact that for the past two days several couples turned up to move in.
“There was a young foreign couple in front of the flat with set of luggage, presumably they meant to move in that evening, standing there distressed and crying. I can only imagine how they felt after only just moving into the UK and probably losing all their money.
“And how the scam left us feel? In the scheme of things; we were moving out of a flat which was miss-advertised as long term rent, however a week after we moved in it was put up for sale, and while we dealt with a very recent death in the family, this completely broke our spirits.
“We lost all our savings while having three days to find somewhere to live. I cannot say that this was a life changing situation, however it was a hard lesson to learn. I feel that if we weren’t in such vulnerable situation already, we would not fall for the scam.”
Olina added a useful extra detail to describe the crook: “He has a slight speech impediment, similar to Jonathan Ross”.
If you have any information you can contact me or call 101 quoting 2721069/14 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
For more information about renting safely please visit the NetRent Landlord Resource Centre which has hundreds of pages of information about renting in the UK https://www.netrent.co.uk/landlord-resource-centre/
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