He stole their names, faked their passports, borrowed almost £1m against their home, and still the police did not inform them they were at risk.
A man reported to the police after he stole £800,000 by fraudulently securing a mortgage using a couple’s stolen identities has since been free to attempt at least 11 more frauds in their names.
He posed as a homeowner seeking a short-term mortgage on a west London property that was in fact owned by the unsuspecting couple. He was first reported in mid-February by a bridging lender to Action Fraud, the police arm responsible for investigating financial crime.
Having advanced £800,000 in cash to a bank account in a name almost identical to a legitimate firm of solicitors which the fraudulent borrower claimed was acting on his behalf, the lender realised it could not register a charge against the property and had been defrauded.
Rather than alerting the property owner and his wife – Mr and Mrs D, who wish to remain anonymous – the lender reported the theft to Action Fraud sometime between 16 and 18 February and appointed a private investigator to track down the stolen money quietly.
Since then, credit searches have been performed for at least nine other forms of credit and insurance policy applications in Mr D’s name, none of which were made by him.
The fraudster has also applied for at least another two bridging loans in the past fortnight using Mr D’s stolen identity, both through different mortgage brokers. He also gained entry to the couple’s home, which is currently for sale, through a buying agent whose firm is registered as a property manager in London with Companies House.
The agent’s website claims he is “a property consultant specialising in prime central London properties as well as luxury premium properties throughout the UK.” The website’s contact details are in fact a virtual office.
i has been unable to contact the buying agent for comment, but according to Mr D, he was shown around the property twice in February by a local estate agency, the second time accompanied by a person claiming to be a contractor.
A spokesman from the estate agency told i: “We have robust processes in place to protect our clients and we comply fully with GDPR [data protection] and anti-money laundering legislation.”
It was only when mortgage broker James Lennon of Tapton Capital was approached for a £500,000 bridging loan by the fraudster on 1 April and immediately contacted Mr D through social media to confirm he had made the application, that the couple discovered the crimes attempted in their names.
Horrified, Mr D reported the theft of both his and his wife’s identities to police, only to be told on 1 April in writing that no crime had been committed.
Action Fraud wrote: “The use of another person’s identity, often referred to as identity theft, is not a police recordable crime. We can only record a crime on behalf of the person or organisation which was defrauded as a result of the misuse of an identity.”
While the letter did go on to say police “do recognise that identity theft can cause significant distress and inconvenience”, it said that until the fraudster successfully stole from them, all the police could do was use the information to “enrich the overall intelligence picture”.
There’s been ‘no crime’ but Mr D is still left sorting out the mess
It seems incredible that no crime has been committed against Mr and Mrs D in this case, and yet, that’s the law. The use of another person’s identification details or the use of false identification details, often referred to as identity theft, is not in itself an offence in law. It is the action that is undertaken using those identification details that is considered to determine if an offence has occurred.
But let’s just think about this sensibly. This man has tried to take out a mortgage in someone else’s name through a mortgage broker. The money would and still could come from a bridging lender, but the debt would be in Mr D’s name. Even when it’s clear a fraud has been committed, that leaves Mr D spending days, if not weeks, sorting out the mess.
This is a man who’s been inside their house or at least has sent his buying agent – wittingly colluding in the fraud or not – twice. Why is entry into Mr D’s home with the purpose of attempting fraud not a crime when attempted burglary is? This was an attempt to steal at least £500,000 from Mr and Mrs D and/or the bridging lender.
The perpetrator gained entry to their home, twice, with the intention of stealing a proportion of its value.
He came equipped with false documentation, showed exploitation of the law firm he falsely claimed had validated this documentation and took significant steps to conceal his identity.
This took significant planning. By some accounts, it looks like he’s got away with in excess of £1.5 million.
The sentence for mortgage fraud, if convicted, is 10 years. For domestic burglary it is 14 years.
A statement from the Home Office, which oversees police procedure said: “We are determined to crack down on fraudsters and are developing proposals for a digital system to enable people to prove their identity easily and securely without the need to provide physical documents.
“We encourage all victims to report incidents to Action Fraud as it provides important information to law enforcement.”
Bemused as to why a stranger, intent on using his identity to defraud a number of mortgage lenders was not considered criminal, Mr D contacted i with copies of the faked passports and documentation sent to Mr Lennon by the fraudster.
Investigating on his behalf, i contacted Akal Solicitors, the Ilford-based law firm whose stamp appears to validate the faked passports, and was told: “Our firm did NOT validate this fake passport. A fraudster has impersonated Mr Gurmail Gill, a solicitor in our firm, to steal money from a bridging finance lender. He’s managed to open a bank account in the name of Akal Solicitors Limited and seems to have knowledge of conveyancing work.”
The firm also revealed that another solicitor acting for a bridging lender had confirmed to them “this imposter has so far managed to steal £1.5 million”.
In an email sent to i, Akal Solicitors said: “The lender has reported the crime to Action Fraud for investigation last month and it seems he’s still in operation using fake email addresses and fake mobile numbers to defraud other bridging finance lenders.”
Mr D’s case is not considered criminal because a crime will only be recorded when the individual or company who has or may have suffered a financial loss through the use of a stolen identity reports it. In this case, the lender.
A spokesperson for Action Fraud said: “Every report to Action Fraud acts as a jigsaw piece in building a bigger picture of the criminality occurring. Not every individual report can be investigated but by having a system that links reports with similar features together, one report can make all the difference.”