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How to avoid rental fraud

Published 25 February 2016 by

With competition for rented properties high, it can be hard enough to find a property that is within your budget, suitable for your lifestyle and that isn’t snapped up before you’ve put your application in – without having to worry about stepping into a fraudster’s trap as well.

Recent reports show that in England and Wales instances of rental fraud have increased from 2,216 in 2014 to 3,193 in 2015. This type of fraud typically sees would-be tenants put down deposits for cheap flats that are either not actually for rent or not owned by the person claiming to be able to lease them.

To make sure you know how to spot a rental scam, we’re going to take you through the warning signs to look out for.

Cheap rent

An investigation by the BBC saw researchers pose as tenants to expose the tactics that fraudsters use to scam their victims. They found one advert on flat-sharing website EasyRoommate for a Kensington apartment for only £700 a month – well below the typical price found in that area.

A woman posing as the owner tried to convince a BBC researcher to hand over £1,400 to a branch of The Coventry Building Society in order to secure the flat immediately. On investigation, it was found that the woman was not listed as the legal owner of the property and that all of the flats in the property were already being lived in.

In an attempt to prove the authenticity of her offer, the scammer emailed a contract and passport image in the name of a German woman to the researcher. It was later established that the identity of this woman was stolen.

As this example exposes, in most cases of rental fraud the property either doesn’t exist or is already being rented out if it does. The upfront fee that the victim pays to secure the property is often lost as a result of this.

What to look out for

If you’re currently looking to rent a new place, take note of the following:

• You should never send money to anyone advertising rental properties online unless you’re certain that they’re genuine.

• If you’re trying to secure a property from overseas (as a student, for example) then you should seek help to do this. Ask your employer, university or a friend to check out the details of the advertisement before you proceed with this. No money should exchange hands until the property has been visited.

• Do not feel pressured into transferring large sums of money over. If you think they’re legitimate, transfer funds into a bank account once you’ve obtained the details directly from the landlord or agency. You should be suspicious if you’re asked to transfer money via a money transfer service like Western Union.

• To test the authenticity of the offer, ask for copies of tenancy agreements and safety certificates such as Gas Electricity or HMO Licence.

• Always question a low price for a property and remember: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Looking to buy a new home? Read our blog on the homebuyer deposit scam to help keep your deposit safe.