Beware land investment scams

Bruce Barnard, 53, a registered mental health nurse from Norwich, was surprised to get a phone call out of the blue one February morning from a company he'd never heard of called Towers Property Development. The "polite and plausible" woman was touting a land investment opportunity in Worthing, Surrey.

"I'm really not one for investment as I'm quite risk-averse", says Bruce, "so I wondered why they were interested in me. But she said land was a good investment because of the housing shortage, and the new Localism Bill would give community groups the right to bypass planning restrictions and build on greenfield land.

"She added profits could be as high as 500% over three to five years."

The Brighton-based company followed up the cold call with some glossy brochures showing computer-generated images of new-build homes on the investment plots of land it was selling.

"I did some background research on the web and it all seemed legitimate", says Bruce, who admits that he didn't carry out any searches to check whether the company really did own the land. "So I paid a deposit of £1,295 - a tenth of what my plot was costing - and agreed to pay the balance in two weeks."

Cold feet

Bruce began to get cold feet, however, when he started noticing negative comments on consumer internet chat forums about 'landbanking' - a process by which unscrupulous firms sell land to investors on the assumption that planning permission for new development will be granted.

In most cases, it isn't and often never could be.

"Towers Property Development didn't pretend it had planning permission," says Bruce. "But my research convinced me the chances of it getting any as a result of the Localism Bill were very slim. It seemed like a sort of legal scam - and it turned out it was actually charging me around 25 times what the plot of land was probably worth."

Bruce called the company and spoke to office manager Jonathan Fields, threatening to report Towers Property Development to the Trading Standards Authority and Serious Fraud Office if it didn't return his deposit. He eventually received £1,000 in settlement.

Burnt fingers

Bruce was one of the lucky ones - he got out before it was too late. Scores of other investors have had their fingers badly burned.

Last year the Financial Services Authority (FSA) closed down five firms that had ripped investors off to the tune of £42 million. Unfortunately, very little of the money is ever recovered.

The FSA is investigating a further 20 firms and estimates that total losses through landbanking fraud top £200 million.

Jonathan Phelan, head of unauthorised business at the FSA, says: "We've even come across one high-net-worth individual who lost £3 million through this type of fraud."

Detective chief inspector Dave Clark, of the City of London Police Economic Crime Directorate, warns: "I've never seen an investor walk away from one of these scams with anything other than a loss. We're currently investigating around six or seven such companies where hundreds of investors collectively stand to lose £2 to £4 million." 

Clark believes the people behind these landbanking firms are very well-organised and clever criminals. "They're often upfront about the fact they're not authorised by the FSA, but claim they don't need to be", he says.

"This supposed honesty gives them a bit of legitimacy. When we raid their offices we find very professional scripts, using the latest government speeches or new building initiatives to make them sound plausible."

The hardline spivs will attempt to sell land that doesn't even exist or which could never be built on because it has no access roads or drainage, or is in a Site of Special Scientific Interest, adds Clark.

"This is blatant misrepresentation and fraud by serious organised crime gangs," he says. "They're unscrupulous. In one room we raided there was a poster on the wall for the film Boiler Room [about share fraud]. These guys are shameless."

Confusion reigns

Towers Property Investment's website declares it offers "UK land - low risk and high rewards", and goes on to explain the process: "Towers Property Development Ltd. retains the largest portion of every site and will be vigourously [sic] pursuing the right to build. The remaining plots are allocated to our clients."

After buying what it considers to be suitable plots of land ripe for development, Towers says it tries to achieve 50% local agreement to help it get "re-zoning and the right to build" - after which, it then has to find a developer willing to buy the land. Until it surmounts both of these hurdles, investors can forget about getting a return on their money.

But nowhere on the website does it say the firm is authorised by the FSA, give details of the land it supposedly owns, or provide examples of successful development projects. Instead, you have to request a login username and password by phone or email first to gain access to this information.

Moneywise rang the quoted telephone number and asked to speak to Jonathan Fields about the company. We were told by the male receptionist, who refused to give his name, that Fields would not be the most appropriate person to speak to as he "only dealt with office supplies - envelopes and that sort of thing".

When we asked to speak to the firm's managing director, the receptionist claimed not to know who this was because he was "just temping". He said someone would ring us back. No one did.

The confusing point for investors and the FSA is that simply advising people on the buying and selling of land does not have to be authorised.

But if the company is engaged in landbanking - managing the land and applying for planning permission on behalf of a group of investors - then it counts as a collective investment scheme (CIS) and has to be authorised.

Spotting the difference between the two can often be very difficult.
Companies will often argue the toss and claim not to be running a CIS.

However, Phelan says: "The key questions to ask are who's managing the land and who's applying for planning permission. If the investment company is, on behalf of lots of investors, then it's clearly a CIS."

Covering its back

Towers Property Development would seem to fall into the CIS category as it is the one allegedly applying for planning permission on behalf of its investor freeholders.

The company claims: "Our team of planners, developers and land specialists research very carefully when looking for the next strategically located piece of land. Once re-zoning is achieved, the value of your land rises dramatically. Conservative estimates set this at 300% to 600% in five or six-year holds."

But then it cleverly covers its back in the terms and conditions, saying, among other things: "We are land dealers and claim no specialist knowledge or expertise as to the future prices of land and the likelihood of land being reclassified. We do not offer advice or speculate as to predicted land rises."

The terms and conditions go on to say that it will not even guarantee that the price of the land sold to investors bears any relation to its true value.

There are a few legitimate companies out there. However, Phelan says: "At the moment, there's only a handful of authorised landbanking companies operating in the UK. So the chances are that if you're approached by a land investment company it won't be authorised."

Investors - you have been warned.

How does the typical landbanking scam work?

A company will buy up a large plot of land, often cheap agricultural land that cannot currently be built on, then divide it up into lots of smaller plots to sell to 'investors'.

Cold-calling people and using hard-sell techniques, the spivs claim the land is bound to get planning permission for any number of spurious reasons and turn people's heads with talk of astronomical profits once the land is sold on to property developers.

Some blatantly lie and say the land has already received planning permission when it hasn't and is never likely to.

The small strips of land are usually sold for reasonable-sounding amounts of between £10,000 and £20,000. In reality, they are often worth a tiny fraction of that.

This land, advertised as ripe for development, can often have little chance of receiving planning permission because it doesn't have road access, or is in a Site of Special Scientific Interest or protected green belt area. In one case, the FSA came across a piece of land sold that was on a 45-degree slope and never likely to be built on.

Typical victims tend to be busy 40-plus professionals who are quite trusting of plausible-sounding investment companies. They don't have the time to do all the necessary background checks and take things at face value.

The fraudsters often employ 'openers' and 'closers'. The opener will make the first contact. They'll be polite, friendly and plausible, reading from a carefully designed script.

Once the investor has fallen for the spiel and paid the deposit, the closer will then ratchet up the sales pressure and become aggressive if the investor doesn't respond to time-limited 'bargain deals' requiring further investment.

When planning permission isn't granted - if it has ever been applied for - investors are left with virtually worthless plots of land and no way of getting their money back.

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Your Comments

You have got me very worried as very stupidley invested in 2 plots of land .One at Lutterworth with the promise of a return last Oct/Nov .When i was told this i invested in a plot at Newbury, I am still waiting on the Lutterworth blameing the economic situation and the present government.
The total invested is around £30.000.with a firm called Asset land.Knightsbridge,

These UK Land Banking schemes are being offered extensively in Asia as well. Fortunately some of the Asian governments seem to have more teeth than the UK and a number of Land Banking executives have had their passports seized in Singapore while a land banking scam is investigated.

I also purchased land at Lutterworth, I declined an offer to buy at Newbury, despite being told the land at Lutterworth had SOLD, but I soon discovered what asset land reps say on the phone and what they put in writing is always different !. I have been totally mis-led by this company and have asked for my money back, but of course they have refused, despite saying this would be an option when I agreed to purchase land in the first place.

HI David,

I've also bought the same plot of land from the same company and have recently become very worried so started to do more research and have come across a few articles now. I only wish I'd seen these before investing. Surely there must be a way to get our money back.

Hi oliverc,
Don't think there is much we can do, we own the land, An expensive lesson learnt ! ! Suppose there is still an outside chance the land may sell 1 day, but I think Asset land knew all along that this land was not going to sell soon, otherwise they would have kept the land themselves (hindsight is a great thing, when your judgement isn;t being clouded by the thought of a massive profit !)
If anyone has any ideas on how we could try and get our money back please let us know

For all of you whinging about being "scammed", why didn't you do your own research? The facts are - the best place to buy UK land for investment is the south east of England. The top three UK house builders are investing heavily in land there, and if you buy the right plot of land, and are prepared to wait at least 5 years, you WILL make a very handsome profit. If you are expecting to "get rich quick", you will be sorely disappointed. If you have patience, you will be rewarded. Do your homework. If you are offered a plot of land for £1500, in 10 years it will still be worth...£1500. A £12950 plot is so priced for a reason. It's going to make a profit. Just sit tight, and stop reading the Daily Express, and start looking at alternative news sources.

I was contacted by this company last summer and they sent a brochure offering land in hastings. I very nearly did invest with them but I decided I was not in the right position to take on a 5-7yr hold (kids going to uni etc..).

I actually did do my homework before reaching that decision and I must say I believe them to be genuine. I handed the brochure to my IFA who then researched the company for me and rang the local council. He found they were indeed UK registered and based in Brighton whilst Land registry confirmed they owned the land. Hastings council explained they could not comment on whether any land would or would not get planning in the future but confirmed there were no covenants or heritage issues that they were aware of.

It is obvious that the are a lot of crooks out there but I am not fully convinced this company is one of them. Perhaps I'm being naive but the article doesn't seem clear as to whether this company is false or not. The fact the FSA hasn't shut them down suggests they may be genuine?


You own it dave, You can always sell it can't you ?

if you cant aford to buy then dont

Let me Quote the Times July 01 2011

"Large tracts of countryside will be developed under new planning guidance that could trigger a building boom by weakening environmental safeguards.
Developers will find it easier to get permission to build housing estates, offices and retail parks in the green belt, under the plan to revive the economy by creating a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
The Times has obtained a recent draft of the National Planning Policy Framework before its publication later this month. The document, marked “restricted” and dated June 13, tilts the balance in planning negotiations in favour of developers. It makes it much harder for local authorities in England to secure concessions, such as the addition of affordable housing, playgrounds and community centres. "

There seems to be a lot of missunderstanding regarding land, its made a lot of people rich in the past and after readinfg the times today a lot more could get richer in the future.

Dear Sirs,

I read with interest and growing annoyance the article on land banking companies in the Money Observer of the 23rd. May 2011.

I have bought land from the company since 2008. I did not recognize the distorted description of Towers Property as painted by the Money Observer.

I have found the conduct of the company honourable, helpful and informative. They research the land you buy and this information is presented in detail to their clients. They made it clear to me that this would be a medium term investment, and have never pressurized me to buy from them, or indeed to pay for the land I have agreed to buy.

We chat regularly. In my experience the ethos of Towers Property is in complete contrast to the “less” ethical land banking companies. I would be happy to speak to anyone interested in investing with them; (address and phone number supplied on request).


I can understand that this would make a great scam, but there must be some genuine investments to be had in land how do I find the ones that are legitimate?

Unfortunately these Land Scams are very current and in fact I have heard that their main operation in Spain has closed down. The idea of Green Belt Land becoming sanctioned by the Government is completely misleading. If you are investing you really need to do your own due diligence and ensure that any investment is Regulated and all monies are transferred to a FSA or similar regulated company to then be protected by that authority in terms of getting at least some of you monies back. Remember that if the promise of returns are more than normal between 5- 10% per annum then it probably is a scam because these people are taking at least 75% of your investment for themselves by way of commissions meaning that your actual investment is peanuts. If you want to look at Regulated Investments then you can always contact me for details and assistance as we only promote regulated investments

hello. i have also invested in a plot of land in newbury in 2010 and have jyst recently discovered its all a scam. I do think it would be worthwhile if the people on this site who have been scammed by asset land inc got together and with a combined effort we can do something.
trading standards in newbury area are investigating them just now and interviewing asset cleints who have been sold land. i have details of the person and this file will then go to the fraud investigation unit with the police.
im not sure how ro send details privately to whomever may need them. please advise if anyone connected to asset would like further info

Hi RKK, am in a similar position re Newbury and also purchased in 2010. Would be interested in receiving this information. Asset Land posted a defence to the investigation back in 2010. I have also been struggling to get hold of anyone at this company over the last week. Please can you contact me on singingpig. Will post a message. Thanks.

I have also been a victim of this company and have tried to contact them from last Friday to no avail. Could you please provide me with the information you're using to follow up on this company. Anyone affected can leave a comment on


Hi all,
I too feel that I have been duped.  I purchased a plot in Newbury last year.  I have tried to call asset land this week but to no avail.  There is an automated message to leave a message, all their numbers don't seem to be working.  I am going to check with land registry to make sure the plot that I have is genuine even if it is for a pile nothing !!
Thier web site is undergoing 'maintenance' - all suspicious
I think we should get together, possibly set up a facebook page to create a group and share info as I want my money back and we may have a better chance as a larger group.
the address I have for them is 16 Hanover Square, Mayfair, London W1S 1HT.
See this link also :
comments appreciated. Thanks

Hi RKK, can you provide me with futher info re trading standards etc

I have details of the person to be contacted at Newbury Trading, will email you the details Aman.  Please also contact via their website or by phone 03001232040, they are collating all the information and will pass them on to the National Fraud Investigation Bureau, who will take action. The more people who log their cases and provide information, the quicker Asset Land can be apprehended. Thanks

I will try and create a blog so anyone who's been affected can leave comments and we can work together that way, not sure about using facebook...

I have also been duped by Asset Land. I visited 16 Hanover Square on 26th June after I couldn't make contact by phone or e-mail. The 'office' is just a mail box in a building that hires out rooms. I have been lied to continously as I was told by their sales rep that he could confirm 3 major developers had already approached Asset to purchase the land in Sept 2011 & even had a selling price of £60/sq foot (I have this in an e-mail from the wonderful Nick Ingram). I was stupid to get involved but the prospect of making a fair amount in a reletivaly short time blinded me. What an idiot I've been. I have also instigated Action Fraud to investigate to ensure nobody else get's duped. I would be happy to get involved in any ideas anyone has as to how to re-claim any monies. One thing you can try. If you paid any money by credit card (how I paid my deposit) you can contact your credit card company & say that it was fraud & they will also chase Asset Land.

hello empowered2p and everyone affected by this awful scam. i am another victim to add to this horrid scam. i too invested my savings on the newbury site and am truely worried about the future of my money. if anyone on hear or out there can help in any way, either with information on how to get my money back? then i couldnt be more greatful. i would travel the world to get my money back and travel to any meetings that are brought together through the victims. i believe that, the more people that can get together will gives us a better chance in getting our monies back. please get back to me via this website. i also tried contacting the email address that where set up on hear, but the computer doesnt recognise there address? thanks for ur time  

hello empowered2p and everyone affected by this awful scam. i am another victim to add to this horrid scam. i too invested my savings on the newbury site and am truely worried about the future of my money. if anyone on hear or out there can help in any way, either with information on how to get my money back? then i couldnt be more greatful. i would travel the world to get my money back and travel to any meetings that are brought together through the victims. i believe that, the more people that can get together will gives us a better chance in getting our monies back. please get back to me via this website. i also tried contacting the email address that where set up on hear, but the computer doesnt recognise there address? thanks for ur time  

hello RTM,
Have you already emailed me or left a comment on the blog?
There are some new developments, check the "caught" page on the blog and email me and I'll provide some further actions for you to take.

Hi. I have just joined Moneywise. I have seen the comments on Asset Land. I too have invested in Lutterworth, Newbury and started to pay on Harrowgate. None of the land regs completed before I saw there are problems. Would welcome any information on what can be done to safeguard or get money back. Thanks

 I too was stupid enough to believe this was a good investment. After spneding hours on the phone to the FSA this morning and then the action fraud helpline, they have both said we will almost certainly never see our money again. Its still a good idea to call the fraud helpline and get a crime reference number though, as it just makes the case against them stronger should they ever be caught. The one thing they can't answer is whether I actually own any land? And I wonder if we do, if there's anyway it ever might become re sellable? Thoughts anyone?

If anyone has any information or contact points to help safeguard or get back our money, I would be grateful to receive on Many thanks

STG: Hi BMT. Email and they will guide you to the group discussion emails where we all can share views etc.I found it most helpful.

I also bought land at Lutterworth, and as I understand it, we can use the land how we wish as long as we don't put up permanent, perhaps some of us could go down with caravans and stay for a while, after all they can't move us on we own it, if the local council get fed  up of the eyesore they might pay us to leave, just one suggestion, anybody got better ideas, I am willing to try anything

Has anyone actually been to look at the land at Lutterworth, perhaps a group of people need to go and actually look at it and see what the prospects of seeling it are, I have been told that the price of farming land has risen by 4% recently, shouldn't we be doing something instead of sending e-mails, it needs a groyp of people, not just one.

Many of us bought in the south Dummy! Don't be so dismissive of people's choices; I imagine you've made a few yourself eh? Not so quick to disclose those though are you?
One has to ask "what exactly brings you to this forum anyway"? Anyone else smell a rat? Ha Ha.... 

Another "Victim" here of the Newbury Plots Scam; invested close to 14 K, and now is the time it's due to be recouped at auction.
I see no money,I have no communication with said company, the last communication was perhaps last october, from the land registry/ solicitors, to inform me they had been replaced by another company.
These people, all of them involved in the execution of such schemes, should be paraded in front of the World, as the Scum that they are! Then forced to hand back much more than what was invested! We placed out futures in this, and I was "Not" easily duped Thank you! I took almost a month to verify and even longer to sign.
This would have been my children's school fee's for years!
Class action is required people; I want my money back, with blood!

I too am an investor at Lutterworth and Newbury. What I do find very confusing is that the plots are being 'promoted' by a company called Greenwood Bell, on behalf of Asset. Since purchase , when the sites were outside the then development boundary, significant progress has been made. Lutterworth is now inside the 'new' development boundary and presentations have been made to the Planning authority regarding numbers and types of housing proposed. This information did not come from Asset. After many hours of trawling through the respective authority planning websites, I found verification of what was told to me and other interesting information. The FSA are investigating the possibility of a 'Collective Scheme'. Unfortuneately the misinformed press and now the FSA's heavy handed approach is causing deep concern and incases panic on the misleading assumption that it is a scam. Unfortunately The FSA's actions will have the same result in the end. How is this helping the consumers? To effectively close down the company that is best placed to secure our investments does not make sense! Why not regulate and fine them for any wrongdoing?

I bought a piece of land from Asset in Newbury and one in Harrogate and have always been able to talk to someone until just recently. I have been sceptical for quite a while though and was worried by the change of phone numbers all the time but have only just found out about all this. I think it is a good idea to get together and find out who owns the plots of land. Also to get together for legal advice. We have contacted the FSA and Action Fraud. If anyone has other advice as to what I can do it would be greatly appreciated

Hi all
I've been appointed liquidator of this company
If you have claims against it, please email
Ian Richardson

Complete Building Systems
Christopher Shipton
See the link below