Consumers are being warned that online rental fraud is on the rise, fuelled by a highly-competitive rental market, and an abundance of classified ad sites.
This type of fraud has risen dramatically over the past five to 10 years, as more and more bogus landlords have tricked tenants into handing over deposits for non-existent properties.
Seven tips if you're thinking of renting
Rental fraud on the up
Reported incidents of rental fraud increased by 44% from 2014 to 2015.
However, it is thought these figures may underestimate the real scale of the problem, as many cases go unreported, due to the victim feeling a measure of embarrassment at having been duped.
Scammers prey on desperate tenants
Low-cost or free platforms for advertising property have become rife with scammers who are able to post fake or misleading adverts at little to no cost, and with few security measures or verification checks, it’s very hard to weed them out.
With millions of people chasing homes to let, the fraudsters are cashing in.
In fact, property classified ads website, TheHouseShop.com, estimates that rogue landlords are raking in £775 million a year through rental scams, with an average cost-per-victim of around £2,400.
How does rental fraud work?
Rental fraud involves scammers posing as landlords on classified ads websites and conning legitimate house hunters out of their money.
So what exactly does this involve?
Typically, the properties offered by these fake landlords look appealing, often with photos copied from other websites.
However, when a prospective tenant contacts the faux-landlord, they are told that in order to secure the property, they need to transfer an upfront fee or deposit before they are invited to a viewing.
Once this money is transferred, the renter never hears from the landlord again and finds the money has disappeared. The landlord’s email address may also be de-activated.
Victims are then left with no home and no cash.
Five tips to beat phone scammers
How to spot a fake ad
Scammers have become highly sophisticated and it isn’t always easy to spot fake or misleading ads.
But you should look out for warning signs, such as ads where the landlord is abroad, or if it is claimed that the flat belongs to a sibling or friend who is abroad and cannot meet you in person.
You should also proceed carefully if an advert seems too good to be true. This might, for example, be a property where the rent price is slightly below the market average, or where the offer looks much better than anything else you’ve seen for the same price in that area.
If you feel something is not right, you should contact your bank immediately.
Signs an email might be a scam
Tips to help you avoid falling victim
There’s nothing wrong with using a classified ad site to find a new place to live as long as you keep your wits about you.
• Never give your bank details and personal information to people or businesses you don’t know. If a prospective landlord asks you to do this, just say no.
• Don’t send money upfront before viewing a property inside and out.
• Be wary of a landlord who asks for money to be wired using a service such as Western Union.
• Always check for a UK phone number, and ask for ID, as well as safety certificates such as gas and electricity.
• Be aware that deposits should be paid into a deposit protection scheme, and should not be transferred to someone to secure a property.
Your deposit when renting
Choose an ad site with strict security and safety checks
Some property advertising websites are busy innovating in a bid to reduce the risk of rental fraud.
For example, TheHouseShop.com, has introduced a unique process, using Land Registry databases, to help verify the authenticity of adverts. It is operating this verification process alongside a host of other security and safety checks in a bid to make it harder for fraudsters to get through the system.
Use a letting agent
If you are worried about using a classified ad site, then you should consider using a letting agent instead, as this will give you extra protection and peace of mind.
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