Con artists and fraudsters are constantly changing their tactics to benefit themselves at the expense of others and given the turbulent housing market at the moment, some have turned their attention to potential tenants.
Fortunately, fraudulent landlords and letting agents are a minority, the majority are genuine and treat their tenants fairly. However, tenants should be vigilant and made aware of several online property scams that we’ve come across in recent weeks.
Fake posts, on sites such as Gumtree, are asking tenants to pay deposits online up front. They are then asking consumers to prove they can pay the deposit requested by transferring funds to a friend or relative of the tenant using a money transfer agent. The tenant is subsequently requested to provide a scanned copy of the transaction to the so-called landlord as ‘proof of available funds’. However, without the tenant’s knowledge, this transaction contains enough information for the scammers to collect the money before the intended recipient does.
The online sites are quick to detect and remove bogus adverts however, unfortunately some still fall foul of the scammers and we’re raising awareness of what prospective tenants can do to protect themselves.
Fraud Protect Officer Rachel Davies advises: “Prospective tenants should find out whether a landlord is registered with an approved tenancy deposit protection scheme (DPS). Tenants should then also check whether their deposit has been protected or not – they can do that by calling the tenancy deposit protection scheme directly.
“Only ever transfer money to reputable landlords who can prove they are registered with an approved tenancy deposit scheme – ideally you should meet the landlord first and view the property before handing over any cash.”
Some signs to look out for in order to identify and avoid a housing scam include:
· Missing key components in the advert, such as the full address, photos, history.
· Unusual added extras, such as free moving boxes, packing help, free relocation services, or anything that’s too good to be true – it often is!
· A cheap price. It’s a good idea to do some research on market prices in the same area for comparison to determine if the listing price is actually fake.
· No background or credit checks required in the advert. Scammers often leave this out when creating the listing so they attract more prospective renters, which may include those with a smaller credit score or someone with a criminal background.
· A landlord refusing to show you the property. Often, their excuses are that they are out of town or dealing with a family emergency. It is a major warning sign when they don’t even agree to arranging a virtual property tour.
· A landlord demanding for you to pay the deposit immediately without papers for tasks like end of tenancy cleaning.
· They will often panic you into the payment by saying there is high interest in the unit and that you will need to put in your down payment as soon as possible to reserve it. Never give money to a landlord unless they show you the property and you have a legitimate contract.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk or call on 0300 123 2040.