Websites which advertised homes in South Shields as hotels were part of a jobs scam, investigators believe.
The Gazette revealed earlier this year that Collingwood House, in Harbour View, and homes in Long Row had been pictured on websites and marketed as luxury hotels.
They were being advertised as Royal Mills and Hotel Suites and the Glascoville Hotel respectively but the websites were later taken down.
Following an investigation from the National Trading Standards eCrime team, it is believed that it was a jobs scam designed to “steal” personal information.
Mike Andrews, the national coordinator for the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, based in the North East, said: “We are not entirely certain, but believe that this scam was targeted at overseas workers, and designed to convince them they could live and work in the UK.
“The scammers mocked up two websites, doctoring the images of buildings in South Shields, to make the scam more believable.
The scammers would have used these sites to steal personal and financial information from their intended victims with the ultimate aim of stealing their identitiesMike Andrews
“One of the sites featured a luxury hotel that turned about to be a local apartment building and the other featured a resort-like hotel that was actually a local housing estate.
“All the interior shots of both ‘hotels’ were stolen from genuine hotel websites.”
He added: “The scammers would have used these sites to steal personal and financial information from their intended victims with the ultimate aim of stealing their identities.
“However, the Shields Gazette story could have stopped them completing the task, as the sites were never quite finished. If anyone wants to know more about jobs scams, visit www.saferjobs.com.”
The Gazette revealed in February that it had seen an email which was sent out to prospective staff members at Royal Mills Hotel and Suites – which is, in reality, up-market housing development Collingwood House.
The “employment offer” asked for a wide range of personal details including a passport number, address, driver licence number and copies of education certificates.
It also requested a copy of employment letters, including the applicant’s latest salary slip, and a scanned copy of the photo page of their passport.
It appeared that the email was mainly aimed at job applicants who were overseas, as it stated a “flight ticket from the residing country will be provided by the management when the visa is ready”.
One Indian man told an online forum that he had received such correspondence, and applied for the job as instructed.
He later received a phone call asking him to pay the equivalent of almost £600 in ‘visa processing fees’.
The first website to appear was that of Royal Mills and Hotel Suites.
It was described as “a privately-owned luxury hotel and suites located in the heart of South Shields”.
However, the picture of the ‘hotel’ showed Collingwood House – a complex of mostly privately-owned apartments in Harbour View, River Drive, with a logo for ‘Royal Mills’ superimposed on it.
Among the ‘attractions’ of the hotel were said to be a gym, swimming pool, gift shop, conservatories, tennis courts, dining spaces and a ‘stunning open wine room’.
Before it was taken down, a contact form on the Royal Mills website encouraged visitors to leave their name and email address, while they were also invited to call a number for a ‘personalised quotation’ for events such as weddings, activity days and parties.
A second bogus hotel website was then uncovered, this time called Glascoville.
The image associated with it featured a row of houses in Long Row, leaving residents there bemused.
It promised 144 bedrooms, 10 meeting and function rooms, a leisure club, “access to boat hire” and a private terrace, which it described as leading to the lawns – and the River Thames, in London.
Advice to help beat scammers
While it appears people in South Tyneside were not the main target of the fake hotels jobs scam, it again highlights the dangers online.
Scammers can also strike over the telephone and through other methods, and last year, South Tyneside Council released advice for residents on the issue.
Their top tips were:
•If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
•Never give out bank details or send money unless you are certain the person in contact can be trusted.
•Contacted out of the blue? Be suspicious.
•Your bank and the police will never collect your bank card, ask for your PIN or come to your home.
•Make sure the website is secure. If buying online, check for the padlock or “https” next to the web address.
•Suspect a phone scam? Hang up and wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone.
•People shouldn’t have to pay anything to get their prize.
•Pressure to make a decision straight away? Don’t be afraid to take your time and just say: “No thank you”.
•Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance.
•Computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer.
•Don’t suffer in silence. Tell others about scams.
To cut down on unwanted calls, meanwhile, people can register for free with the Telephone Preference Service at www.tpsonline.org.uk
For advice or to report scams to Trading Standards through the Citizens Advice Consumer Service, call 03454 040506.