Dozens duped out of thousands by Gumtree flat renting scam in Barnsbury
Dozens of flat hunters were left homeless and out of pocket after a scam artist signed them up to the same property.
At least 28 victims handed over deposits of �500 to �2,500 in cash after signing tenancy agreements for the one bedroom flat in Copenhagen Street, Barnsbury.
They were duped by a well-spoken conman sporting an ill-fitting wig, after responding to an advert on classifieds website Gumtree, which quoted the rent at �225 per week.
Accountant Jasmine Begum, 34, who was stung for �2,385 and is now sleeping on her sister’s floor after giving up her last tenancy, said: “A lot of us turned up with belongings and nowhere else to go after already handing in our notice.
“Nothing screamed out to me that there was anything dodgy about any of it. He said he worked in Zurich and he was very well spoken. I know I will never see the money again, but I just want this guy caught.”
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Between November 19 and 30, the con artist took �29,500 from the victims who have so far come forward.
The heartless scheme came to light on Friday, when many arrived at the basement flat to move in at the same time.
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They each found they were not the only one, while the entrance gate was padlocked shut and a scruffy hand-written note on the window read: “This property is NOT for rent! If you have paid deposit and/or rent, contact the police.”
Jazz musician Hayden Prosser, 22, who handed over �2,300, said: “More and more people started turning up and many were in tears. I felt absolutely gutted because I thought it was legitimate.
“It’s a shame, that was a great flat, and that’s why many people fell for it. It’s awful that someone could lie to so many people like that.”
Mr Prosser had signed the contract in front of friend Claire Francis, an illustrator who has sketched the conman.
Another victim, James Keen, 25, who paid out �1,040, said: “Many of us can’t now afford to pay a deposit for another place. I want to raise awareness of the scam so other people don’t fall for it.”
Pc Richard Hill, of the Barnsbury Safer Neighbourhoods Team, told how the con-artist turned nasty when he was nearly rumbled.
He said: “In one case his luck nearly ran out, as visits from three prospective tenants overlapped and they became suspicious. They chased him, but he drew a knife to ward them off and escaped.”
He added: “Many of the victims described an ill-fitting wig that sent alarm bells ringing, but they still handed over the cash.
“He has preyed on vulnerable people who were desperate for somewhere to live. One or two of them spent their last reserves of cash and were extremely tearful and angry.”
Pc Hill described the conman as a light-skinned Asian man who spoke perfect English with a slight accent.
Anyone with information can call Islington CID on 020 7421 0296.