Sean McGowan, 43, from Partridge Green, West Sussex, admitted using a fake passport to set up a company in the name of the true owner of the property, who is thought to live abroad. Then, last May, he hoodwinked a solicitor and estate agent into selling the property, in Moor Park in upmarket Sunningdale, at a knock-down price. New homes in the area sell for up to £4 million.
The fraud was only unmasked because Windsor and Maidenhead council officials tried to track down the owner to complain about urgently needed repairs at the rapidly decaying house. They quickly smelt a rat and contacted Thames Valley Police.
Detectives swiftly traced McGowan to his home, where he confessed to the crime. Police were able to recover £730,000 of his ill-gotten gains but McGowan had already spent the other £20,000.
Daniel Burstow, based in Savills’ Sunningdale office, said it isn’t the first time this kind of fraud has happened locally. “In areas like this there are always people out for a bargain to convert and make a quick buck,” he added.
“In areas with expensive property there are people who will look to make a quick buck out of it,” he said.
“I recall one case a couple of years back involving a piece of land which somebody pretended they owned, which they did not. It did not get as far as this but you certainly have to be aware of the possibility.”
Other scams Burstow is aware of include unscrupulous buyers purchasing a plot of land close to a private house and then threatening to open a pig farm or dirt bike track on it – unless the owner is willing to purchase it at an inflated price.
“In one case three or four homes were going to be affected and so they clubbed together to buy it,” said Burstow. “Considering what property prices have done since then, it is starting to look like a good buy – they have had the last laugh with that one.”