Man from Great Yarmouth arrested following EDP and Evening News investigation into online property scam

Wherry Road in Norwich where a flat was marketed by a bogus landlord on SpareRoom.com. Image: Google

Wherry Road in Norwich where a flat was marketed by a bogus landlord on SpareRoom.com. Image: Google Streetview - Credit: Archant

An investigation by this newspaper into an online property scam has led to the arrest of a 27-year-old man.

Last month we reported how a bogus landlord had been targeting people looking to rent rooms online in Norwich.

Using the flatshare website SpareRoom.com, he tricked people into paying a £100 deposit to secure viewings for a Riverside property.

But it later emerged that he did not own the advertised flat, on Wherry Road, and any money transferred would not be returned.

We remained in regular contact with the individual behind the scam while posing as an interested tenant.

And from the information we collected, we were able to identify the person who we believed was responsible.

The details were passed onto police, and now a 27-year-old man from the Great Yarmouth area has been arrested on suspicion of fraud.

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Since publishing the story, a second victim has also come forward to reveal how she fell victim to the scam.

Megan Hatch, an outreach support worker with the charity MIND, said she spoke to the fake landlord before paying the deposit.

The 24-year-old from Long Stratton said: 'I had been checking SpareRoom every day and I saw the advert come up and it seemed perfect.

I thought if I got in their first and secured [a viewing] with the money, I stood a chance of getting it.

But I went there on the Monday and waited a very, very long time, and he didn't turn up.'

She said she felt 'angry and humiliated' by the experience.

Her story was almost identical to that of Solomon Muhumuza, who paid the deposit in a desperate bid to find accommodation in the city.

The 30-year-old, who now lives north of the city centre, said he was told the viewing deposit would be returned after the viewing.

But after transferring the money, the fake landlord never turned up.

'I told him I would be coming to the city on Wednesday and I waited all afternoon,' he said. 'But no one called.

'The following morning I received an email from SpareRoom.com to say if I had been in contact with Toni-Anne Lacey, not to give any money away.

'I was really annoyed and I called SpareRoom to tell them I had sent the money, but they tried to pass responsibility as it had not gone through them.'

Mr Muhumuza was instead told to contact the police and the national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, ActionFraud.

The email from SpareRoom.com informed users that the advert was believed to be a scam, and that it had been removed from the website.

Matt Hutchinson, director at the flat sharing website, said moderators submitted an information report to ActionFraud following the incident.

He added: 'We took the advert down after an email report from a SpareRoom user saying they'd been asked for a £100 deposit before viewing the property.

'Our site moderators had a look into this claim and agreed the ad looked suspicious so we removed it.'

The man police arrested has been released on bail until February 1.

What happened when we originally confronted the bogus landlord

We kept in regular contact with the fake landlord while pretending to be a tenant, writes reporter Luke Powell.

The advertised property was for a one-bedroom, fully-furnished apartment, located on Wherry Road – all for £500 a month.

We went to the address and found that while it was empty, it was managed by Norwich Residential Management Ltd and not the person pretending to market it on Spareroom.com.

The company put us in touch with the real landlord, who had no idea the property was being marketed.

Over the following days we kept in regular contact with the fake landlord.

He said his name was 'John' and he insisted we transferred the money online.

We attempted to meet him in person, but he said it was not worth his time.

We eventually confronted him, using what we believed to be his real name, but he denied ever speaking to us.

'I am telling you I know nothing about it,' he said. When we told him we had a record of previous conversations, he said: 'You must have your wires crossed.'

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