Revealed: Fraudster who went on the run to Spain has been illegally subletting Edinburgh properties on Airbnb using alias in ‘organised’ scheme
A fraudster who went on the run from police to Spain has been illegally subletting properties in Edinburgh on Airbnb while using an alias - and one letting agent has called it “organised fraud.”
Donna McCafferty was tracked down near Alicante in 2008 and brought to justice following a Crimestoppers appeal which featured her on Britain’s ‘most wanted’ list. The list also published various false names she was suspected to be using.
One of McCafferty’s aliases, ‘Louise Hanscombe,’ has been used on documents seen by this newspaper supplied to letting agents to rent properties in the Capital in recent years. These include drivers licences, credit reports and details of employment in which she claimed to be a manager of a jewellery business which was later found not to exist.
Tribunal rulings published on the Housing and Property Chamber website reveal a tenant called Louise Hanscombe was evicted from two properties in Edinburgh for subletting through Airbnb, as well as one in Dunbar, in 2019. An eviction order has also been made for another property in Edinburgh, though Airbnb subletting is not the cause of the eviction in this case. A woman called Elizabeth McAndrew, another suspected alias for McCafferty, is also listed in the forthcoming tribunals section as facing eviction from another property.
One affected landlord couple, who did not want to be named, told the Edinburgh Evening News they discovered ‘Louise Hanscombe’ had converted a lounge and study in their two-bedroom flat in Roseburn to advertise four rooms on Airbnb, about a month after she signed the lease in April 2019. She was their first ever tenant.
The couple’s letting agent, Arden Property, saw the rooms advertised illegally on Airbnb after a neighbour alerted them to people coming and going from the flat, some with luggage.
One of the landlords told this newspaper: “The moment she moved into our flat she put locks on all of the rooms to let it out as four individual bedrooms.
“This person is a criminal and other people should be aware.”
‘Neighbour from hell’
Catriona Smith, senior partner at Arden, informed Hanscombe she had to leave the property for breaching the tenancy agreement but said she continued to sublet the flat during the summer and Edinburgh Festival - and it was not until October 2019 she was evicted. Ms Smith firmly believes Hanscombe did not occupy the property during the tenancy.
The couple say they are still owed more than £5,600 in rent arrears and that Hanscombe stopped paying after receiving the breach of contract notice.
They also said there was extensive damage to the flat including a broken coffee table, a smashed chair and a broken lamp.
Ms Smith said she initially checked out Hanscombe’s employment details which referenced an apparently legitimate company website in the tenancy application form - but when she later attended the stated business address in Leopold Place she found empty offices.
Ms Smith says she contacted police once problems came to light and because she was aware Hanscombe was renting other properties in the Roseburn area - but was told it was a civil matter. She also contacted Airbnb but claims nothing was done about removing their property listing.
One of the other eviction orders published for Hanscombe concerns another flat in the Roseburn area. It states that this property was being sublet through Airbnb and that she had even applied to Edinburgh City Council herself to become a landlord.
Ms Smith said: “It’s absolutely organised fraud. This is not someone just subletting a home and making a bit of money - it’s totally organised.”
Ms Smith says there needs to be a better system in place for agents to share information about proven fraudsters to prevent them moving from one property to the next.
An Airbnb spokesperson said: “We have removed the host from the platform. We ask all hosts to confirm that they have permission to list their space and remind them to check and follow any rules that may apply, which is made clear in our terms of service and on our responsible hosting page.
“We investigate all concerns brought to our attention and take action, including removing users from our community, where appropriate.”
Airbnb advises renters who are interested in hosting to review their lease agreement and check with their landlord for approval, and to comply with any relevant conditions to sublet as a tenant. The rental platform was asked specifically what checks and measures are in place to ensure anyone ‘hosting’ a property is legally allowed to do so.
A current neighbour of McCafferty in Granton says she owns vintage cars which are often parked in other residents’ parking bays, and claimed she has been “unpleasant” when speaking to other people in the building’s corridors.
The resident, who did not want to be named, said: “I have had to live in the same building as this criminal for far too long. I’m just so pleased I don’t live anywhere near the flat she is in.
“But I still don’t feel safe in my own home with her coming and going. She really is a neighbour from hell.”
McCafferty went on the run in Spain after a money laundering investigation was launched against her in 2004 - but she was tracked down in November 2008 following a Crimestoppers appeal.
She had been hiding out using a false name in a detached villa in the Costa Blanca town of Benissa, near Alicante. Following a tip-off, she was snared by Spanish officers who were working with the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency as part of a wider operation to track down fugitive Brits in Spain.
In January 2010 at Glasgow Sheriff Court, McCafferty was given 250 hours community service for benefit fraud.
She admitted defrauding more than £13,000 in housing benefit between November 1999 and March 2004. She was originally charged with a string of further frauds amounting to more than £74,000 - but prosecutors accepted her not guilty pleas.
At Glasgow Sheriff Court in October 2011, a confiscation order for £13,003 was made against McCafferty.
Attempts have been made to contact her.