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Rental Scams

 

Prove Your Means

 
Everyone knows that renting can be hellish and there are special lines in hell where letting agents and landlords wait for hours to view their bedroom, only to find it is literally a toilet. However, such people are increasingly worth their salt because there are large numbers of rental scams operating online.

Overseas students are particularly vulnerable and many of these scammers target university towns at the beginning of an academic term, when many people are searching for accommodation at the same time. The pressure coming from all the competition makes the victim particularly vulnerable to this kind of scam. The same is true of towns hosting sporting events and holiday rentals during the school vacations.

These adverts are usually found online, and are most likely on a site that does not charge for hosting the advert. Naturally it will look like any other ‘to let’ advert. However, if there is more than one advert with the same text or different text but the same pictures, the prospective tenant should be extremely suspicious.

When asking for more details about the property, the only means of contact is likely to be email or a mobile number. Fixed lines can be traced so all scammers will avoid them whenever possible. The student is then asked to supply financial statements to prove that they will be capable of paying the advertised rent. So far, this can be considered fairly normal. However, flat-hunters will be asked to offer a ‘holding deposit’ to ensure that they secure their place, should they like the property once they’ve seen it. Of course the property doesn’t actually exist and this is where many people find themselves fleeced.

Western Union and MoneyGram always advise clients that money sent this way should only ever be destined for a trusted person whose identity is already known to you or previously established. Unfortunately, this does not stop many people sending cash directly to the person who is scamming them. Online payments are also in danger of going directly into the con artist’s account. A more subtle version of this swindle involves the prospective tenant being instructed to send money to a friend and then forward all the details of the transfer as proof that they have done so. This risks supplying a scammer with precious banking and other identity details which will allow the thief to forge enough ID to empty the deposit-fat account. Sometimes both.

How to avoid this scam:

The first rule of scams applies here: if the apartment sounds too good to be true it probably is. The second rule of scams is also clear in these cases: don’t send money for nothing.

Although it may seem tempting to get everything organised online, especially if the rental is only going to be for the short-term, tenants should always visit the apartment in question and meet the landlord or their agent. No money should change hands until after a valid contract has been signed and witnessed. Payment for a deposit is best made via a credit or debit card at the office of the letting agent, or via a government scheme designed to protect deposits.

The agent should have verified the landlord’s right to rent the property – but that’s another story…

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