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property fraud attempt

Property fraudsters nearly get away with £200,000 in Reading

Cases

April 12, 2024

A blatant case of fraud by false representation almost cost over £200,000 to property owners in Surrey Road, Reading.

Court proceedings revealed that the fraudsters, whose real names are Garfield Prince and Isla Halls, claimed to be the rightful owners of a house to sell it.

To do this, they used forged Portuguese identity documents - a fake passport and driving licence - as is often the case with identity theft schemes.

Needless to say, the rightful owners of the house were less than thrilled when they discovered the news. Luckily, the property fraud was detected in time, unlike many other similar cases (such as this one).

Indeed, Prince and Halls now stand accused of deceitfully asserting joint ownership of the terraced property in Reading.

A 'lost sale' that - as reported by the Reading Chronicle - could have earned them quite a hefty sum at the expense of the rightful owners.

 

Identity theft: forging an illusion

Prosecutor Emily Hodge accused the couple of falsely presenting themselves as the owners of the Surrey Road house. The attempted scam lasted almost two months, from 1 June 2022 to 31 July 2022.

Of course, the real owners never intended to sell the house as they already had tenants on the property. What they hadn't realised, is how easily skilled fraudsters can access your most valuable possessions.

What really made the difference in this 'ordinary' case of property fraud was the meticulous process the fraudsters went through to fabricate a nearly flawless illusion.

The extensive planning, the information gathered and the carefully falsified documents all indicated a largely deliberate plan.

This attention to detail is increasingly common among fraudsters, who have learned well how to spot and exploit security gaps. A feat made even easier by the growing number of online scam tactics at their disposal.

The selling agency almost fell for it, believing their claims to be the owners, coming within a whisker of losing a grand total of £254,000.

After all, one of the most convincing reasons property fraud is on the rise is quite simple: it works. Even after prosecution, it's almost certain that the fraudsters will have dissipated the funds making them untraceable

However, this time justice prevailed on the two scammers, putting them before a judge before they even realised it.

Property fraud before the court

Isla Halls, aged 43 and residing in Greenwich, London, appeared before the court, confirming her personal details.

She faced charges related to fraud and possession of a fraudulent Portuguese passport in the name of Ikuko Derry. Halls allegedly used the identity card in connection with the fraud on July 31, 2022, in Romford, Essex.

Chief Magistrate Penny Wood informed Halls that, given the financial implications of the case, it would proceed to trial at the Crown Court

Halls was granted unconditional bail pending a plea and trial preparation hearing scheduled at Reading Crown Court.

Meanwhile, Garfield Prince, 60 and a resident of Newham, London, was charged with similar allegations of property and identity fraud under the name Simon Derry. However, Prince failed to appear in court for the initial hearing, prompting magistrates to issue an arrest warrant in his name. 

Property fraud: a systematic issue

Unfortunately, the dramatic growth of property fraud and identity theft is no longer news.

Homeowners, landlords and real estate professionals need to maintain a constant state of alert navigating the UK housing market.

On the other hand, fraudsters, taking advantage of the latest digital tools, have become daring as ever.

Even institutions such as the HM Land Registry and Companies House have proved unsuitable to counter property fraud. Their inaction soon led to innocent property owners at the brink of losing their home.

When property fraud occurs, it is unlikely  to recover the stolen funds. Fraudsters simply transfer stolen money to offshore accounts, not accessible to the UK authorities.

Lastly, the lack of responsiveness of the British justice system and the almost certain absence of effective sentencing, has caused a further increase in property fraud cases.

This time, victims were lucky enough to avoid a dramatic financial loss.

But how much longer will property owners have to rely on luck?