Three con artists have been given prison sentences after a nationwide letting scam was unearthed by Westminster City Council.
Adam Coote, Andrew Rickard and Sahila Kauser used false names and made up businesses to convince unwitting landlords and tenants that they were running a legitimate enterprise, before taking large deposits and never returning them.
They were busted following an investigation by the council, with the assistance of the National Trading Standards Scambusters and the Met Police.
The victims were shown around properties in Mayfair, as well as Birmingham and Bristol, and told a credit check was required before they could move in.
Potential tenants were then told that they had failed and would instead have to pay six months of rent in advance.
A number were given access to the properties, but the money was never passed on to the landlords.
Tenants were also told that their utility bills were covered but in actual fact these were not being paid.
The trio used serviced offices, giving the impression of respectable established businesses, but these were often left quickly and payments defaulted on.
They also used different business names helped hide the fraud, including Belgravia Property Group, Carlton Residential, Park Lane Residential Ltd and Mayfair Residential.
Coote used the names Jordan Lawson, Elliot Portman and Lewis Goldman to conceal his identity, Kauser posed as Jasmine Khan, Zara Khan and Zara Kauser. Rickard used Andrew Rommel and Joshua Benson.
Coote also changed his name via deed poll on a number of occasions, going from Adam Coote to Elliot Joshua Wilson in 2006, then becoming Elliot Portman before his latest offence.
He had previously served a four-year jail sentence for fraud in 2009, and it is believed that he met Rickard in prison where they hatched the plan.
Their 21 victims provided statements to the Westminster Council investigation, with losses amounting to roughly £26,000.
All three were sentenced for conspiracy to commit fraud. Coote was sentenced to 28 months in prison at Southwark Crown Court on July 29.
Rickard was sentenced to 18 months in prison at the same court on May 12. Kauser was also sentenced at Southwark and got an 18-month custodial sentence suspended for two years, with 140 hours unpaid work and a 12-month supervision order.
Westminster say the convictions show the importance of asking letting agents if they are a member of a redress scheme, so that any disputes can be resolved by an independent ombudsman.
Carl Robinson, chair of the Tri-Region Scambusters team, said: “Yet again, the collaboration and partnership working of local authority Trading Standards and the Tri Region Scambuster team has ensured another excellent result in court.
“Criminals have no respect for local authority borders, but together, as this case has clearly demonstrated, we can successfully prosecute offenders to protect vulnerable consumers.”