Scamwatch: beware property fraud

Jess Bown
Beware property scams
Beware property scams

Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters with our series of articles giving you the lowdown on the scams they use to trick people out of their hard-earned cash - and how to avoid being taken in by them.

This week, we issue a warning about property scams, one of which is thought to have led to the suicide of an ex-solider tricked into paying out towards a non-existent property in the south of France.

How does it work?

According to fraud prevention organisation Action Fraud, property fraudsters often persuade victims to hand over money after they have attended a free presentation.

In other cases, the property being marketed falls well below the standards described or simply does not exist at all.

This appears to have been the problem with a property scam that caught out British ex-soldier Lee John and his wife.

A few weeks ago, he asked friends on Facebook to help him trace a conman they had met in Phuket, Thailand.

"He has duped my wife into believing he has high end property rentals globally and promised her a very well-paid job in the south of France," John said in the post.

"But 18 days on and after paying him 1,100 Euros we are effectively homeless in a one bedroom studio apartment the four of us and the dog."

John, whose friends say took his own life, was found dead just a few days later.

How can I avoid being caught out?

It is always sensible to be wary of any unsolicited letters, phone calls or emails from people trying to sell you property.

If you are interested in investing in property in the UK or overseas, you should also research the company and the development thoroughly before signing up.

Other steps you can take to protect yourself against scams include always getting an independent lawyer to look over the contract first.

I've been defrauded. What should I do?

If you are caught out by a fraudulent property company, you should cease contact with the fraudsters immediately and report the scam to Action Fraud (0300 123 2040).