A former lettings manager has been jailed after pretending that he was still a lettings agent, persuading a string of top firms to hand over keys for fake viewings.
He then used the keys to get into properties while the owners were out, and stole money and items including jewellery.
The agents that were conned into handing over keys included Knight Frank, Foxtons, Chestertons and Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward.
All have now tightened up their procedures for releasing keys.
At least one – Knight Frank – believed that Ben Papantoniou was still lettings manager of the Hampstead branch of Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings.
In an extraordinary twist, it yesterday emerged that Papantoniou was also a Purplebricks Local Property Expert but was dismissed after three months.
We understand that although his recruitment had been before any kind of criminal record showed up, Purplebricks acted after a police warning.
Papantoniou was employed by Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings from August last year until March this year.
Three months after leaving, he began his thefts, Blackfriars Crown Court heard.
On five separate occasions, Papantoniou, 34, posed as a letting agent with different companies, fraudulently obtaining keys and going on to burgle properties.
Altogether he stole over £3,000.
He pleaded guilty to four charges of burglary and one of theft, and was sentenced to 30 months in jail.
Vidhur Mehra, director at Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings, said: “Ben Papantoniou was employed by us from August 8 2016 and his contract was terminated on March 23 2017 for reasons unrelated to his recent convictions.
“We keep a tight control of our keys. Our understanding is that Ben fraudulently posed as an employee of Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings some time after he had left our company.”
A spokesperson for Foxtons said: “We’ve reviewed our security procedures as a result of this isolated incident and reaffirmed the importance of extra vigilance to our front office staff.
“We are sorry about the distress caused to the affected tenants by this fraudster.
“The tenants were compensated for the loss incurred as a result of this dreadful situation.”
A spokesperson for Kinleigh, Folkard and Hayward said: “We have robust security systems in place for holding and releasing client keys.
“This was an isolated incident and as a result our procedures have been reinforced across our network of 60 branches.”
Giles Milner, marketing director of Chestertons, said: “As one of London’s largest lettings agents, Chestertons has a number of checks and strict procedures in place to prevent fraudulent activity such as this, but we urge all agents, landlords and tenants to always remain vigilant and report or further investigate any suspicious activity.”
Knight Frank has been approached for comment.
The Linked-in profile of Ben Papantoniou suggests that he was a Purplebricks Local Property Expert.
The profile, which has clearly not been updated, states that he is a company director and shareholder at BPM and alongside this entry displays the Purplebricks logo.
According to Companies House, however, a company called Ben Papantoniou Management was dissolved in January via a compulsory strike-off notice.
His CV also includes stints at Prospect Estate Agents, Reading; Chard Lettings in Notting Hill, London; and senior lettings manager at Black Katzlef.
Last night, a spokesperson for Purplebricks told us: “Ben, who passed our CRB check, worked for us for a short time in 2015. He was dismissed within three months.
“We understand he went on to work for other estate agencies.”
EYE believes that requests have been made to Linked-In to have the profile changed.