Portal juggling has been defined as one of a number of "emerging threats" aimed at deceiving consumers through the manipulation of digital technology.
In its annual Consumer Harm Report, out today, National Trading Standards includes portal juggling amongst what it calls "the types of scams people should look out for."
Portal juggling - when estate agents intentionally mislead prospective buyers through the manipulation of portals by removing and re-listing properties to make them appear new on the market - is included in the report along with more obviously criminal activity such as the advertising of counterfeit or dangerous goods on social media platforms while falsely claiming to be respected brands.
That portal juggling is included in a report that also covers long-standing scams such as knowingly selling faulty or dangerous goods, fake direct mail appeals and the selling of second hand cars with tampered mileage clocks is, perhaps, an indication of the scale of distaste the practice now has in the consumer protection industry.
The report's executive summary, listing emerging threats to het public, includes the paragraph: "The practice of ‘portal juggling’ is also expected to continue, which has seen estate agents mislead prospective home-owners by manipulating online property websites – by removing and re-listing properties – to make them appear new on the market."
More generally the report also outlines the key threats and criminal activity that National Trading Standards teams have tackled over the past year; these have seen 77 criminals convicted in 2015-16, collectively sentenced to 161 years’ worth of jail time.
The report does not counter specific criticism of poor policing of property-related issues but Lord Toby Harris, chair of National Trading Standards, says: “Our teams are working within the resources available to clamp down on criminals who target consumers and honest businesses.
"The dedicated work of our officers has prevented £345m loss for businesses and consumers in the past two years, representing a saving of £12.63 for every £1 spent. Our work is making inroads into criminal activity, but we know that in many cases this is just tackling the tip of the iceberg."
Lord Harris says anyone suspected of spotting a scam - portal juggling or otherwise - should report it to the Citizen’s Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.
“We fund National Trading Standards to help protect people from dangerous goods, counterfeit products and sub-standard services, whether through social media scammers or rogue door-step traders. The Consumer Harm Report is a valuable piece of work, helping to educate and inform those most at risk" says consumer minister Margot James.