A couple who posed as bogus letting agents to scam hopeful tenants out of £26,000 have been given jail sentences.

They talked landlords and letting agents into giving them the keys to view properties and then told tenants who wanted to rent the homes that their credit ratings were so poor that they would have to pay six month’s rent in advance.

Sahila Kauser, 34, and Andrew Rickard, 51, of West Bromwich, West Midlands, then fled with the cash.

The couple admitted conspiracy to defraud 21 home hunters in Bristol, Birmingham and London at an earlier hearing.

Kauser, a former model and Miss Plus Size UK, was jailed for 18 months suspended for two years so she can care for two children while her partner, Rickard, serves 18 months in prison.

She has to carry out 140 hours of community service.

A third defendant is yet to appear before the court and is the alleged ringleader of the scam.

Sentencing at Southwark Crown Court, Judge Martin Beddoe said: “This is a concerted and wicked fraud in which you tricked would-be tenants of residential properties.

“You tricked them to believe they could secure somewhere to live. Some did in fact get somewhere to live but several didn’t. They had the distress of coming to an address to find someone else living there.

“You took the money of these people in two ways, first by taking a deposit to secure the tenancy.

“Then more was undertaken by Rickard and the ringleader, tricking them into believing there was a problem with their credit rating and they had to pay a substantial amount of rent in advance.

“Some tenants came to take properties that came out to be unavailable to them or because of occupation by someone else, couldn’t get access at all.”

The prosecution alleged Rickard and another man devised the plot while they were serving time in prison together. Rickard was behind bars for four years for dealing cannabis.