I’ve dealt with this whole landbanking issue on many occasions before, I think I first wrote about it before I even had a website, for the Sunday Business Post back in the early noughties. It hasn’t, however, gone away. In fact, in times of recession, scams like this become even more virulent because the amounts of money involved, when compared to the amount of money it takes to purchase property outright, seem quite reasonable.
Basically, a land banking scam operation claims to have ownership of a plot of land that is ripe to gain planning for development. When it does so, the company will tell you, it will cause the value of the land to skyrocket. In fact the land, if owned by the company at all, is generally worthless and would never be viable for planning no matter what happens. By the time people figure this out the company has sold all the ‘plots’ it has allocated on the land (sometimes many times over) and if it ever had an office it has closed it and all those connected to it have vanished into thin air.
If you want to know more about plot sale scams a trip to Property Scam may be in order – see here.
Sky News has done a very good investigative piece on a company called Asset Land Investment Inc. (incorporated in Panama, not to be confused with Asset Land Investment Plc in the UK), but it could have been about any one of hundreds of such companies that proliferate in the UK in particular. It’s not particularly prevalent outside the UK but you may remember a company called Fortuna Estates which eventually morphed into Oanna, in Spain, which was eventually raided by the Spanish Authorities having peddled its wares in Ireland and the UK for almost half a decade.
In any case, here’s the piece from Sky News, well worth a watch and – as you should know at this stage – Caveat Emptor.
If you’ve been affected by this issue Sky is assisting investors in forming a group to seek recompense from Asset Land Investments owners. You can make contact on email@example.com.
Piece courtesy of Sky News:
A Sky News investigation has uncovered evidence that increasing numbers of UK investors are falling victim to land-bank fraud. Figures released by the Insolvency Service reveal 67 land-bank companies have been forced into liquidation since 2009 which collectively lost investors £50m.
In total, land-bank schemes are estimated to have lost UK investors £250m and complaints to the Insolvency Service have increased 33 per cent since 2007. Sky News confronted Asset Land Investment (ALI), a company involved in a land bank scheme. The company markets plots of land to the public; land it says is about to receive planning permission to build homes, yielding huge profits for the investor. But the land is often in green belt areas that have little chance of being developed and investors can be left with plots they cannot sell. Claire McKendree-Wright from Tunbridge Wells was persuaded by Asset brokers to put her life savings into two parcels of land in Newbury and a further two in Harrogate.
A single mother with five children, Ms McKendree-Wright paid £63,760 for the plots. She claims she was told her investment would increase three-fold in 18 months. She said: “They sounded so plausible. They told me they do all the background work for their customers and they only sell plots that are going to be snapped-up for building.
“I was left to feel there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt the plots would get planning permission and that I couldn’t lose my investment because it was like putting my money in the bank.”
Ms McKendree-Wright says she was told that she could come out of her ‘investment’ at any time simply by notifying her Asset broker. But when her personal circumstances changed and she asked to come out of her investment, she says Asset refused to return her money. She said: “I was out of work and couldn’t get a mortgage and I desperately needed a deposit to rent somewhere for me and my children.
“But Asset said they couldn’t buy back my land once it’s been sold, they can only re-sell the plots to someone else and only then one plot at a time.” Posing as potential investors, we approached Asset Land and were offered a 990 sq ft plot in a field near Harrogate, North Yorkshire for £17,820. Asset’s senior broker, Jennifer McKenna, insisted our plot was on the verge of receiving planning permission and our investment would triple in value. He said: “When you ask me, ‘is it definitely going to get planning permission?’ the answer is a categoric ‘yes’. You just sit on it for 18 months then sell it on to a developer. ”Once it has got right-to-build status on it you can expect to see a three-fold return. So if you put in £10,000 you can expect to see in the region of £30,000.” But a check with Harrogate Council confirmed there are no plans to allocate the land for housing. The council told Sky News: “The site is outside the Harrogate district development limits and furthermore, the site is located in the green belt.
“There is thus strict control over new developments in this area. New housing would, as a matter of principle, be contrary to national and local planning policies protecting Green Belt.” Harrogate Council said the earliest the land could be considered for open-market housing development was 2024. Asset Land purchased the field for £115,000 and divided it into 200 plots. So far they have sold about a quarter of these to investors for a total of £761,038. In a secretly-filmed meeting with Asset’s President, Stuart Cohen, we were also told our money was safe as we could come out of our ‘investment’ at any time: Reporter: “So I wouldn’t lose any money if I wanted to come out of my investment?” Cohen: “Not at all, no. If you wanted to come out of it instantly, if you said to me, pay £20k tomorrow, you would only get back what you paid for it.”
Asset claim on their website that, because they’re selling parcels land to individuals and not collectively investing their money, they’re not required to be regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
The company has also applied for the land at Harrogate to be considered a rural exception, which would allow the site to be considered for development of affordable housing under the Government’s rural exception site policy. The FSA is warning the public to be wary of companies who cold-call them selling land. Spokesperson Jonathan Phelan told Sky: “They sound just like proper investment advisors so don’t think you’ll be able to spot one when they call. ”Their classic target victims are elderly, because they’re more trusting and more likely to have disposable cash. ”We’ve seen land sold in areas of special scientific interest and land sold on a slope so steep you would never be able to build on it. ”Yet the potential investor is told that it will get planning permission. This gives rise to an element of fraud which the FSA and the police take an interest in.” As well as Harrogate, Asset Land is marketing sites in Newbury, Lutterworth, Steeple Morden and Stansted. Stuart Cohen refused to answer our questions when we confronted him at an address in central London.
If you’ve been affected by this issue Sky is assisting investors in forming a group to seek recompense from Asset Land Investments owners. You can make contact on firstname.lastname@example.org