BE WARNED - Landbanking scams, where unsuspecting investors are persuaded to
buy agricultural land at vastly inflated prices, are on the increase.
That was the warning this week from the government's Insolvency Service, which revealed that the amount lost by UK investors since 2007 alone totals more than £30m. These are 'known losses' relating to 49 firms shut down in the past four years – it is estimated that total losses from all landbanking scams exceed £200m.
The research also reveals that the average amount invested and lost by the victim of a landbanking scam is around £23,000. However, it is thought the biggest sum allegedly lost in the UK by one person or family is £618,000.
Investors cannot make any claim against the Financial Services Compensation
Scheme because the firms behind the landbanking are not authorised by the
Financial Services Authority.
Landbanking companies typically buy up agricultural or other land without
residential planning permission, then divide it into small segments and sell these to investors. Purchasers are led to expect that their bit of farmland will get the go-ahead for housing development, which would see it soar in value.
These firms often employ hard-sell tactics to persuade people to buy. Many of those targeted are older people with a lump sum or an inheritance to invest, who may be pulled in by the spiel suggesting that, at a time of low savings rates, this is a high-yield investment with a relatively quick turnaround time. However, the plots being marketed are often green-belt land or sites of special scientific interest, which are not likely to get planning permission. Some of the firms use forged documents carrying a Land Registry stamp as an "official guarantee" that their plots already have, or will gain, permission for homes.
The Insolvency Service said that since 2009 it had seen a 33% surge in the number of complaints received about landbanking schemes, adding that it had noticed
"an increasing amount of activity in this area".
An analysis of a sample of 35 landbanking victims from four scams closed down
since mid-2009 shows that almost half (44%) were over 60. The oldest investor
was 85. It seems that men are more likely than women to be targeted.
Officials said some of those ripped off are people you might think would know
better and would be less vulnerable to such scams. Victims can just as easily be
professional people and wealthy investors from overseas. However, the Insolvency
Service has found it difficult to find people who are prepared to go on the
record and speak publicly about what has happened to them, perhaps because they
are worried about the harm it may do to their reputation.
For more information go to the Insolvency Service website.
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